The worshipers were attending to an elderly man who'd fallen suddenly ill after evening prayers when terror struck. A man intent on killing Muslims plowed a rented van into the group of Londoners — killing one and injuring 10 more — before jumping out and taunting them with slurs, according to witnesses.
Onlookers captured the attacker, pinned him to the ground and began to beat him.
Then, something remarkable happened: An imam from the mosque outside of which the attack took place came outside and persuaded the angry, grief-stricken crowd to practice peace, not violence.
“The driver jumped out and then he was pinned down to the floor and people were punching him and beating him, which was reasonable because of what he’s done,” a witness named Adil Rana told the Guardian. “And then the imam of the mosque actually came out and said: ‘Don’t hit him, hand him over to the police, pin him down.’ ”
“For that reason this guy is still alive today,” added another witness, identified only as Mohammed, a 29-year-old cafe owner. “This is the only reason. If the imam was not there he wouldn’t be there today.”
Speaking to reporters Monday, the imam, Mohammed Mahmoud, said he and others acted to “extinguish any flames of anger or mob rule that would have taken charge had this group of mature brothers not stepped in.”
The suspect was then held peacefully until being taken away by police.
London's first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, called the incident a “horrific terrorist attack,” and “clearly a deliberate attack on innocent Londoners, many of whom were finishing prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.”
Khan told Sky News that Mahmoud's actions “calming things down” were “what I'd expect from a good faith leader, from a good Muslim leader.”
The attack outside the Muslim Welfare House comes on the heels of two recent attacks in London in which vehicles have also been used as weapons, both on bridges over the Thames River.
Down the road from the Muslim Welfare House is the Finsbury Park Mosque, and both are in an area of north London that is home to many Muslims. In the past decade, the mosque has transformed its image from one associated with radicalization to one that advocates interfaith harmony. British Prime Minister Theresa May visited the mosque Monday and met with religious leaders from multiple backgrounds.
“Hatred and evil of this kind will never succeed,” May said.