A man allegedly shouted “This is for Syria” as he launched a knife attack on three people at a London underground station in what police have described as a terrorist incident.
The Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism command is investigating the stabbing in Leytonstone, in which witnesses claimed the attacker said “blood will be spilled”.
A man believed to be aged 56 suffered knife wounds that were serious but not believed to be life-threatening, while two other people sustained minor injuries in Saturday’s attack.
Police officers Tasered a suspect who, as he was led away, said the attack was in response to intervention in Syria.
It took just under eight minutes for an officer armed with a Taser to reach the scene. An armed response vehicle was also sent to the underground station, but firearms officers were not needed.
Videos of the scene at about 7pm on Saturday show passengers, some with children, running away as a man lies in a pool of blood. Police said the victim had serious knife injuries but they were not life-threatening. Two other people received minor injuries.
Scotland Yard would not confirm or deny reports that the attacker had cut the throat of one of his victims. One witness, who did not give his name, told LBC radio he saw a victim with a “deep laceration to his throat bleeding profusely”. Another person suffered a stab wound to the underside to his chin, he said.
“[The attacker] was screaming this is all for the Syrian people,” the eyewitness said. “It was quite shocking. Everyone was extremely scared and afraid.”
Salim, the owner of a shop in the station, said the attacker punched a victim to the ground before using his knife. “The victim was shouting somebody help, somebody help and the tall man was punching him so hard,” he told LBC. “When he fell on the floor he started kicking him and then I called the police. When he started stabbing or cutting something on his body everybody ran away ... It was scary.”
In one video, the attacker is shown confronting several people in a station corridor. One was filming him at a distance of a few metres on his mobile phone. Another approached the attacker but was struck high up on his body, and an onlooker said “he stabbed someone”.
A nearby police officer then drew what appears to be a Taser gun from his belt and took aim at the attacker. “Taser him, Taser him, Taser him,” said one bystander. The officer fired but it appeared to have little effect and the attacker advanced again.Other members of the public, including an elderly man, can be seen watching yards behind the attacker’s back.
Officers then fired a Taser at the suspect again, which sent him crashing to the floor. While the suspect was on the ground after being detained by police, he shouts words that lead one person to reply: “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv,” according to a video posted on social media.
Michael Garcia, 24, a financial analyst from Leytonstone, told the BBC he was walking along an underground passage that runs through the station when he saw people running outside.
“I realised it wasn’t a fight but something more sinister,” he said. He then saw “a guy, an adult, lying on the floor with a guy standing next to him brandishing a knife of about three inches ... maybe a hobby knife. It had a thin blade, but looked fairly long. He was screaming ‘Go on, then, run’ to everyone else. He was pacing back and forth next to the guy on the floor. He came up to the barriers.”
One of the police officers detaining him also appeared to be Muslim. Videos show some people in the tube station hurrying away when they realise a knife attacker is on the loose, while others take out phones and make video recordings and take photos.
Another witness, named Khayam, told BBC Radio 5 Live of the aftermath of the attack. “Within about five, 10 minutes they brought out the person and took him to a police van,” he said. “When he came out I didn’t hear him saying anything, but I saw pedestrians shouting at him. One pedestrian tried to throw a bottle. A police officer just said ‘back off’. Then they took him to the police van. I saw a victim come out on a vertical stretcher with ambulance staff being rolled towards the ambulance. Several minutes later police closed off the station and evacuated everyone from the area. There was a big pool of blood. It didn’t look pretty.”
Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, described the attack as an abomination. Duncan Smith told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “This is my borough. It grieves me to think that this kind on incident took place there. I know the police work incredibly hard, we have an anti-gangs programme there ... It is an abomination to think of somebody doing this whatever the circumstances are. This is one of the good reasons why under the spending review we haven’t cut the police budget and the police will get the money necessary to secure the areas most threatened from terrorist attacks.
“We cannot let these sorts of people, terrorists etc, dominate our space. The way we defeat them at the end of the day is that our values, our freedom of expression ... the freedom capitalism brings to us – none of that must be curtailed. That is the reason they attack us. We have a moderate state that believes in help and assistance to people and doesn’t believe in this totalitarian idea.”
Cdr Richard Walton, who leads the Met’s counter-terrorism command, said: “We are treating this as a terrorist incident. I would urge the public to remain calm, but alert and vigilant. The threat from terrorism remains at severe, which means that a terrorist attack is highly likely.
“I would appeal to anyone who was in the vicinity of Leytonstone underground station earlier this evening at around 7pm who saw anything suspicious to call the anti-terror hotline on 0800 789 321. “Anyone who may have captured video or photographic footage of the incident is also urged to make contact with the counter-terrorism command via the anti-terror hotline”.
Laurynas Godvisa, who claims to have witnessed the attack, said on Twitter: “So as I was going to Leytonstone station was dressed to go to Christmas dinner with people from work. As I walked down I just saw a lot of people running but I ignored it and kept walking to get my train, but suddenly what I saw I couldn’t believe my eyes and what I saw was I guy with a knife and a dead guy on the floor.
“I was so scared I ran for my life. After good 10-15 police came and got the guy and arrested him. “And as he was coming out this is what he said: ‘This is what happens when you f*** with mother Syria all of your blood will be spilled.’”
A Met spokesman said: “Police were called to reports of a stabbing at Leytonstone underground station. The male suspect was reportedly threatening other people with a knife.
“Met officers attended the scene. A man was arrested and taken to an east London police station where he remains in custody. A Taser was discharged by one of the Met officers.”
The Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, wrote on Twitter following the attack:
Transport for London said the incident had sparked delays on the Central Line. Steve Griffiths, London Underground’s chief operating officer, said: “Leytonstone station is currently closed whilst the police investigate an incident that occurred earlier. We’re assisting the police as necessary and will reopen the station as soon as possible.”
Since the Paris attacks three weeks ago there has been concern about how long it would take British police, who are usually unarmed, to reach and subdue a terrorist attacker.
Counter-terrorism detectives were expected to trace the suspect’s address and search it. They will have special interest in any computers or phones for evidence of whom the suspect had been in contact with and what websites they had been viewing, as they look for any signs of radicalisation. They will be looking for any signs the suspect was not acting alone. The video footage of the attack will also be important evidence for investigators.
The prime minister, David Cameron, has said that seven plots against the UK have been foiled in the last year. At least one of those is alleged to have involved plans to use a knife to cause casualties.
If Scotland Yard counter-terrorism command’s suspicions about the attack at Leytonstone are confirmed, it would be the first violent jihadi attack on Britain’s streets since May 2013, when a soldier, Lee Rigby, was murdered outside a London barracks by two terrorists who hacked at his neck and repeatedly stabbed him.
This article was written by Lin Jenkins and Vikram Dodd, for theguardian.com on Sunday 6th December 2015 10.49 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010