By Paul Sandle and David Milliken
LONDON, June 4 – Suspected militants drove a van into pedestrians at high speed on London Bridge on Saturday night before stabbing revellers on nearby streets, killing at least six people and wounding nearly 50.
Armed police rushed to the scene and within eight minutes of receiving the first emergency call had shot dead the three male attackers in the Borough Market area near the bridge.
The attacks came just five days ahead of a parliamentary election on Thursday. The ruling Conservative Party suspended national campaigning on Sunday, a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said.
“Following updates from police and security officials, I can confirm that the terrible incident in London is being treated as a potential act of terrorism,” May said in a statement as events unfolded.
The assault occurred less than two weeks after a suicide bomber killed 22 people at a pop concert by U.S. singer Ariana Grande in Manchester in northern England, and in March a man killed five people after driving into a crowd of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in central London.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack.
“Sadly, six people have died in addition to the three attackers shot by police,” Mark Rowley, Britain’s top anti-terrorism officer, said. The three attackers had been wearing what looked like explosive vests that were later found to have been hoaxes.
The BBC showed a photograph of two possible attackers shot by police, one of whom had canisters strapped to his body. Hours after the attack the area remained sealed off and patrolled by armed police and counter-terrorism officers.
The London Ambulance Service said 48 people had been taken to five hospitals across the city and a number of others had been treated at the scene for minor injuries.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said some of those who had been injured were in a critical condition.
Khan said the official threat level in Britain remained at severe, meaning an attack is highly likely. It had been raised to critical after the Manchester attack, then lowered again days later.
The mayor also said he did not think Thursday’s election should be postponed because of events in London.
“One of the things that we can do is show that we aren’t going to be cowed, is by voting on Thursday and making sure that we understand the importance of our democracy, our civil liberties and our human rights,” Khan said.
London Bridge is a major transport hub and nearby Borough Market is a fashionable warren of narrow alleyways packed with bars and restaurants. The area is always bustling on a Saturday night.
Witnesses described a white van careering into pedestrians on the bridge.
“It looked like he was aiming for groups of people,” Mark Roberts, 53, a management consultant, told Reuters. He saw at least six people on the ground after the van veered on and off the pavement. “It was horrendous,” he said.
A taxi driver told the BBC that three men got out of the van with long knives and “went randomly along Borough High Street stabbing people.”
Witnesses described people running into a bar to seek shelter.
“People started running and screaming, and the van crashes into the railing behind. We went towards Borough Market and everyone went inside (the bar),” one witness, who gave his name as Brian, 32, told Reuters.
Another witness, who declined to be named, his white top covered in blood, described a scene of panic in the bar.
“They hit the emergency alarm. There was a line of people going down to the emergency exit. And then people started screaming coming back up,” the 31-year-old said.
“Around the corner there was a guy with a stab wound on his neck … There was a doctor in the pub and she helped him. They put pressure on the stab wound.”
BBC radio said witnesses saw people throwing tables and chairs at the attackers to protect themselves.
The BBC showed dozens of people being escorted to safety through a police cordon with their hands on their heads.
TRUMP, MACRON EXPRESS SOLIDARITY
Daesh, losing territory in Syria and Iraq to an advance backed by a U.S-led coalition, sent out a call on instant messaging service Telegram early on Saturday urging its followers to launch attacks with trucks, knives and guns against “Crusaders” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Similar attacks, in Berlin, Nice, Brussels and Paris, have been carried out by Islamist militants over the past two years.
May was due to chair a meeting of the government’s Cobra security committee later on Sunday.
U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter to offer U.S. help to Britain. The White House said he had been briefed on the incidents by his national security team.
French president Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter that “France is standing more than ever side by side with the UK”.
Two French nationals were among those injured in the London attack, Macron’s office said in a statement. Australia said two of its citizens were caught up in the attack and that one was in hospital.
The Manchester bombing on May 22 was the deadliest attack in Britain since July 2005, when four British Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people in coordinated attacks on London’s transport network.