Europe

London attack toll rises to 7 dead as Theresa May insists ‘things need to change’

Griff Witte, Karla Adam and Rick Noack

LONDON — The death toll rose to seven Sunday in the latest terrorist attack to strike Britain, with Prime Minister Theresa May blaming the “evil ideology of Islamist extremism” and vowing to conduct a review of the nation’s counterterrorism laws.

London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick confirmed that seven people were killed in Saturday night’s incident, in which a van mowed down pedestrians on London Bridge before the vehicle’s occupants got out and started stabbing patrons of nearby bars and restaurants. The death toll does not include the three attackers, who were fatally shot by officers within eight minutes of the first emergency call, Dick said.

British authorities did not identify the victims. A Canadian was among the victims, according to a statement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed that a Frenchman also was among the dead.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said in a late afternoon news conference on Sunday that investigators were still trying to confirm the identities of the attackers and that they were “increasingly confident” there were no other perpetrators. He said police still had “more to do” to determine whether the assailants had any help in planning the attack.

Rowley said the three suspects, all of whom were wearing fake suicide vests, were shot dead by eight London police officers who together fired 50 times. He described that as an “unprecedented number” of shots fired in a country where most officers do not carry a firearm and those who do rarely, if ever, use it.

The number of shots fired, Rowley said, was necessary “to be completely confident [officers] had neutralized the threat that those men posed.”

At least 48 people were injured in the attack — including one bystander who was shot by an errant police bullet and was expected to recover. Four officers were among the injured. Rowley said Sunday that 21 of those injured are in critical condition.

As doctors and nurses tended to the wounded, police carried out raids in the east London neighborhood of Barking in a signal that authorities are probing at least the possibility that others may have been involved in the planning of the attack. A dozen people were arrested, police said.

In Barking, neighbors said police had taken at least five people away early Sunday from a mixed-income, 10-story building believed to have been home to one of the attackers. Neighbors said that they heard loud bangs during the raid and that one of the men who was ultimately arrested had tried to flee.

Even as the investigation intensified, authorities did not raise the nation’s threat level, as they had after a bombing in Manchester last month.

There was no claim of responsibility for Saturday night’s attack. But investigators were focused on the likelihood that the attack had been inspired, if not directed, by the Islamic State. The militant group has called on its followers to carry out attacks in the West, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.

The low-tech but high-profile attack will raise questions about how British security services failed to stop yet another mass-casualty strike after years of thwarting such attempts. May, who is running for another term in this week’s general election, said the nation needs to step up its fight against radical ideologies in response, asserting that there is “far too much tolerance for extremism in our country.”

“Things need to change,” May said Sunday, speaking outside the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street.

The recent attacks — Saturday’s was Britain’s third in as many months — were not connected, May said. But she described it as “a new trend” in which terrorists are “copying one another and often using the crudest means of attack.”

May did not detail her plans for confronting the threat. But she floated the idea of tougher prison sentences for less serious terrorism-related offenses and called on tech companies to do more to crack down on extremist content online.

Facebook responded with a statement calling for “strong partnerships” between tech firms and policymakers.

May also seemed to acknowledge Sunday that British security services are struggling to keep up as the scale of the threat grows. The services say they have disrupted at least 18 plots in recent years. But they have about 3,000 suspected extremists on watch lists — far too many to actively monitor at all times.

Previous attacks have been carried out by people who had been flagged to the security services for concern but had been judged to be peripheral to any active plots.

May had returned from the campaign trail to 10 Downing Street late Saturday for emergency meetings with security officials. On Sunday morning, all the major parties, including May’s Conservatives, suspended campaigning ahead of an election due Thursday.

May said the election would go ahead as scheduled, a position that was endorsed by her rivals, who joined her in condemning the attacks.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, May’s main rival for the premiership, told Sky News that the vote should go ahead, and campaign aides later said he would give a speech on terrorism Sunday night.

“I think it’s important to give a message that democracy must prevail. If we allow these attacks to disrupt our democratic process, then we all lose,” he said.

Corbyn also took a thinly veiled jab at May, an indication that with only days to go before the vote, the political truce declared Sunday morning would not last long.

Asked what effect the attack would have on the campaign, Corbyn said he hoped voters would reflect on “the need to have sufficient police officers on our streets” — a reference to his oft-repeated criticism that Tory austerity has left security services lacking the necessary resources.

May, for her part, was accused of politicizing the attack by using her speech outside Downing Street to issue an aggressive call for a new approach to combating terrorism — ideas that the ruling Conservatives have floated for years but have not successfully implemented.

Matt Zarb-Cousin, a former Corbyn spokesman, wrote on Twitter that “most people will see Theresa May’s statement for what it is: politicizing a terrorist attack because she’s worried about losing the election.”

Adding to the growing political debate over the attack were Sunday morning tweets by President Trump, who used the social network to take aim at political correctness, the call in the United States call for tougher gun laws and Sadiq Khan, the London mayor. Trump chided Khan for attempting to calm the public by assuring that there was “no need to be alarmed.”

Khan’s comments were in reference to an escalated police presence on the streets of London. But Trump incorrectly characterized them as a comment on the attack itself.

Khan’s office released a statement saying the mayor “has more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet.”

Trump’s tweets were widely mocked in Britain, where the overwhelming mood was one of unity against the terrorists and praise for security services.

At one London tube station, travelers were greeted with the message: “London Bridge will never fall down. You can never break our spirit!”

The police cordon around London Bridge and Borough Market was gradually reduced Sunday, as forensics teams continued to secure evidence and heavily armed officers guarded empty streets. On several streets leading toward Borough Market, tourists and London residents had dropped flowers. Signs reading “ISIS will lose. #Love will win” were attached at street signs.

The relatively calm scene was in marked contrast to the night before, with witnesses describing a rampage that left a trail of bloodied bodies on the bridge and in the market.

The attacks set off panic in the heart of London on a cool June evening as the city’s streets were filled with people heading home from dinner or out for a drink.

In packed pubs — normally scenes of Saturday night revelry and merriment — patrons threw chairs, bottles and glasses at the attackers as the assailants used long knives to slash their way through crowds. Tourists gaped at the carnage from the roofs of double-decker buses.

Police said the attacks were being treated as “terrorist incidents.” The top priority of police is to find out more about “these individuals who carried out the attack and the background to it,” Dick said.

Khan issued a statement condemning “a deliberate and cowardly attack on innocent Londoners and visitors to our city enjoying their Saturday night.”

People in London should expect more police on the streets in coming days, Khan said in a television interview on Sunday morning. But Londoners should not be alarmed and should not let terrorists disrupt daily life or the upcoming election, he said.

“We can’t allow them to do that,” Khan told Sky News. “We are not going to be cowered by terrorism.”

In a dawn news conference, Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Rowley said that the three attackers had been shot dead and that authorities did not believe anyone else was directly involved in carrying out the carnage.

Rowley said the men had not used explosives, despite a widely distributed photo that appeared to show one of the assailants lying supine with metal canisters strapped to his body. Rowley said the vest was “a hoax.”

Saturday marks the third major attack in Britain this spring. The evening’s carnage carried grim echoes of a similar incident in late March, when a driver swerved into pedestrians at Westminster Bridge, another Thames crossing, killing four. The driver then fatally stabbed a police officer at the gates of Parliament.

May had lowered the nation’s threat level only days ago — from “critical” to “severe” — after having raised it following a bombing last month at a Manchester pop-music concert that was claimed by the Islamic State and that killed 22 people.

But even with the lower threat level, the nation’s intelligence services had continued to judge that another attack was likely.

On Sunday, the pop star who performed in Manchester on the night of the attack, Ariana Grande, was due to perform again in a charity concert to benefit the victims. Concertgoers reported extraordinarily tight security.

Witnesses reported that a white van was traveling fast — approximately 50 mph — when it mounted the sidewalk and plowed into a group of people crossing the Thames River on foot just after 10 p.m. Saturday night

The van collided with a guardrail. Bystanders said they thought the crash may have been an accident, until the occupants got out.

The three men who had been in the vehicle immediately began stabbing people on the bridge with knives before making their way to Borough Market, a foodie paradise nestled under the archways of railway viaducts that attracts locals as well as tourists from around the world.

It was in the market, just south of the bridge, where police killed the attackers and ended the rampage.

“I heard many gunshots, and I heard people running away,” said Joe Dillon, 23, who was nearby when the attack occurred. “Police officers were shouting: ‘Get out of here, you need to go!’ I heard at least eight rounds of gunshots, but I’m not sure who was shooting.”

Cellphone video from a restaurant in the market showed people diving under tables amid the sound of breaking glass as officers rushed in and ordered patrons to stay down.

Tamara Alcolea, 24, who works as a bartender in a pub called Southwark Rooms, which is near the bridge, said the first indication that something was wrong was when she heard that someone had been stabbed close to London Bridge.

“Then we heard gunshots, and people started to hide beneath the tables,” Alcolea said. “We locked ourselves in the office. From the window, I could see an injured person being treated by emergency personnel. Then the police came in and told us to run. Everyone was panicking.”

William Booth in London and Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.

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