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Live Updates After Van Plows Through Pedestrians On a busy London Street. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired June 18, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:03] PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST : But, frankly, this is -- I think if indeed this is what it is, if this is a terrorist attack against Muslims coming out of a Ramadan service, that's unusual. I think this will -- as we wake up tomorrow morning in the United Kingdom, I think people will find this to be something that is not at all common.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Peter Bergen, Juliette Kayyem, thank you. Please stand by.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CABRERA: We are following breaking news out of London right now where a van has hit a crowd of worshippers leaving a mosque. These are some pictures from the immediate aftermath.
There are reportedly several casualties and that at least one person is under arrest. A young woman, who could see the scene from the window of her home, tells us at least two people were lying on the ground and that a police officer was performing a cardiac massage on one of them. She also described people screaming and crying for help, trying to get the attention of police and medics.
Another witness who was inside the mosque when this happened said she had no doubt Muslims were targeted. But police have not confirmed that right now.
The Muslim Council of Britain did release the following statement, "We have been informed that a van has run over worshippers as they were leaving Finsbury Park mosque. Our prayers are with the victims."
Now, the mosque is located off Seven Sisters Road near Finsbury Park, just north of Central London. Officers say they were called to the scene shortly after midnight local time. It is 3:00 a.m. there. And this is a live picture of what's happening on the scene right now.
And you see there are lots of police officers lined up. There is an area cordoned off. And a police vehicle there in the scene.
I spoke earlier with Hillary Briffa who witnessed the aftermath of the attack. Listen.
HILLARY BRIFFA, EYEWITNESS: I started hearing a lot of commotion on the street. A lot of yelling, a lot of running. I could see everything from my window, so I ran down to join the throng to see what was happening.
We all ran up towards the mosque, the mosque entrance right next to the Finsbury Park station. And they were going -- shouting that a car had collided with people who are exiting from Finsbury Park mosque after prayer. So, there was a lot of commotion going on.
There was a white van which had been pulled over. Everybody was clamoring around it and shouting at the man (INAUDIBLE). He was the person who had hit everybody. Almost immediately, the police were pushing all of us back. So, I didn't get too much close there.
Everybody was being pushed back. Very agitated. The crowd wanted to get -- they were all shouting that this was an act of Islamophobia, white supremacy -- a white supremacist act, shouting that this was an act of terror.
CABRERA: So, let me stop you for just a moment, Hillary, because I'm having a little bit of a hard time hearing you and I want to make sure I understand what you just said. Did you hear people shouting that they believe this was an act of terror?
BRIFFA: Yes, but an act of white supremacist -- a white supremacist attack and people were shouting this was an act of terrorism, even though he's white. These were the kind of comments people were yelling out.
People saying -- yes, people were very, very agitated, trying to get close to the attack, saying where is the media, this is an act of terror. The police were -- began pushing people back to form a cordon.
They were saying we can't give you permission at the moment because people have been injured, we need to get everybody as far back as possible, so that we can get emergency services through.
They pushed the cordon back along Seven Sisters Road up until (INAUDIBLE) road, is the road just off Seven Sisters Road where they pulled the cordon, that's just past my flat actually. So, I went back into my flat, which is inside the cordon and have been watching things unfold from the side.
CABRERA: So, Hillary, did you see the person who may have been involved in this incident, who may have been driving the vehicle?
BRIFFA: No, I've seen the vehicle and I saw a lot of people crowding around somebody, but I couldn't see him myself. There were a lot of people. And indeed, just the personal safety as well, I didn't want to get too close because, obviously, you never know what could happen next.
But I did see the van itself. This was a white van that's now parked outside the station. Yes, a white van.
CYNTHIA VANZELLA, EYEWITNESS: I was in bed really and I just heard a lot of people shouting. So, I went by the window to see what was going on, and I saw loads, loads of people gathering in this corner right in front of my window, across the road from my apartment.
[22:05:06] And they were very nervous, shouting very loud, trying desperately to make some signs to a police car that was a little bit further down, just passing the road. There was a little bit of traffic at the time. And then, in a matter of like seconds, the police car arrived and many other police cars arrived just after that.
I didn't see exactly what happened. I just saw from this moment when everybody was already screaming and shouting and very, very nervous.
CABRERA: Do you know where all these people came from? Were people just hanging out in the street? Was there an event going on?
VANZELLA: No, what happens in here is that this community in North London is a very mixed community. It has people from many, many different countries, different cultures, and we all live perfectly fine.
I never saw anything nowhere close to this happen at all. We have a church in one road, an evangelic church in another corner and a mosque across the road as well and everybody just lives fine. We never had any problem at all in here.
CABRERA: Again, those were two witnesses who saw the aftermath and heard some of the screams of the people who were near the scene after that van plowed into pedestrians.
CNN'S international correspondent Ian Lee is on scene now and is joining us live. Ian, what are you seeing, what are you learning?
IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, right now there is just a heavy police presence around the mosque where this incident took place. A lot of emergency ambulances, fire trucks.
When I was on my way here, I saw a number of ambulances and fire trucks racing here. When I got to the scene, there were a lot of people gathering here, a lot of local people trying to figure out what happened.
I spoke with one eyewitness who described what he saw. He said he was just inches away from this attack. He said people in the mosque were finishing up prayers, which happens during Ramadan. It's called tarawih. This is a prayer at night.
People were leaving the mosque. He said that there were a group of people who were gathering around in front of it. And he said that's when he saw a van come running in and hitting a number of the people.
He said at least five people were hit from what he saw, and he said one person was on the ground and wasn't responsive after that van hit.
Now, it's unclear if the driver of the van tried to get out or if the people were able to pull him out of the van. But from what the eyewitness told me that locals were able to apprehend him very quickly.
And this is a man, according to the eyewitness, and were able to hand him over to police where he was then arrested. We also have heard that there could have been another person. We haven't been able to confirm that.
Our eyewitnesses said that there could have been two people, but definitely the driver of this van was apprehended and handed over to the police.
This is a mosque, we are told, in this neighborhood, it's not the largest one, but it's one that many people go to. Families go to pray, especially now during Ramadan, during this Islamic holy month. People were gathering to pray.
And this van -- one thing interesting from what this eyewitness told me about this van is it didn't seem like he was trying to stop. It didn't seem like he was coming in and that this could have been some sort of accident. He said that he heard this van accelerate into this group of people.
Now, we haven't heard from the police what they believe was the motive behind this, but people in this neighborhood are definitely saying that this is some sort of terrorist attack. But, again, we'll have to wait for the police to give us a definitive answer on that, Ana.
CABRERA: Ian, obviously, where you are, they have the area cordoned off. We do see the police presence behind you. Did you get a look at the van yourself? Did it end up crashing into something that brought it to a stop, or any idea?
LEE: We aren't able to see the van. We are pretty far away from where this incident took place. The police have a pretty wide cordon around this mosque. When I was talking to the eyewitness, it didn't seem like this van hit something.
He said it came to a stop, and that's when they were able to apprehend the driver. So, there's a little confusion of exactly what the driver was doing at the time. Was he trying to leave? Was he staying in his van? They were able to pull him out. But right now, a lot of people gathering here.
[22:10:03] This is a community mosque. This is a mosque where a lot of people in this neighborhood come and pray. These are people that they know. This is definitely having effect on this local community.
CABRERA: No doubt about it. We are looking at the live images. It's a little after 3:00 in the morning in London and there are dozens, if not more than that in the street. Obviously curious and trying to get answers about what happened there in the wee hours of the morning.
I know our CNN international correspondent Phil Black is also at the scene and is joining us now. Phil, as we come to you, I'm looking and I'm seeing, we have new information from the London Metropolitan Police saying it is too early to say if this collision is indeed a terror incident and they do confirm they have one person in custody, adding they believe that this person they have in custody is the driver of that van.
What are you hearing from people on the ground there?
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, where we are standing, Ana, is at another police line a distance away from where Ian was. Again, I think we're being held some distance from where the van actually came to a stop.
But myself and colleagues have been speaking to people who said they witnessed the event, I'm told. And they talk about seeing this van drive into people. And then when it did come to a stop, it was locals -- people who are bystanders, if you like, people who grabbed the driver of the vehicle and held. So, that could be the person that the police there are talking about having in custody at this time.
Some of the witnesses -- and this is where it gets a little less clear -- are talking about there being perhaps more than one person in the vehicle. But -- in fact, we've heard from a couple of people that that may be the case.
But what we have as confirmed information, as you say there, from that police statement, they are holding one person. They believe that's (INAUDIBLE). And at the moment, the police are saying it's too early to say precisely what the motivation was specifically. They don't know because it's too early to say whether this is terror related or otherwise. Ana?
CABRERA: OK, Phil Black. We're having a hard time with your audio. Obviously, in a breaking news situation, sometimes we aren't able to get all of that sorted first, but we'll come back to you. I want to go back to Ian Lee, who again is on the scene there.
And, again, reiterating the most recent information that we are just getting, Met Police telling CNN it's too early to say if the London collision is terror and they have one person in custody, who they believe was the driver of the van involved in this incident.
Ian, we're seeing so many people there. Set the scene a little bit more for us about who is out there and are these people who are witnesses? Are they looky-loos, are they people from the mosque? What more can you tell us about this area?
LEE: Ana, it's a mix of people really. I was able to speak to a number of them. A lot of the people were just locals. There's a number of mosques in this area. And so, when they heard about this incident, many people came from those mosques to see what was going on. And there were a few people who were lingering around, who were at the scene when it happened.
One man that I spoke with, who was an eyewitness, was escorted from behind the police cordon back outside. He said that he gave police his statement. And then talking to him, we were able to get an idea of what happened. And he told us that this van careened into a crowd of people after a worship. And talking to this man, he said this is a family mosque. This is a neighborhood mosque. People from around here go and pray, especially now during Ramadan. There is the tarawih prayer which happens between around 11:00 and midnight local time.
And they were just getting out of that prayer when this incident happened. And the people who were gathering around, a lot of people just wanting to know exactly what happened. This is a city that has experienced a number of incidents, a number of terrorist attacks. People are very much concerned, and so they want to know what happened.
And talking to the people -- now, we heard -- what we heard from the police is that they're not yet calling this a terrorist attack. But when you listen to what the people are saying around, at those police cordons, they say -- they believe this man deliberately ran into this crowd of Muslims. And they say, that is a terrorist attack just like what we saw on London Bridge.
And so, right now, the people over there were quite agitated. There were some people who were angry because this happened. But for the most part, everyone remained calm, just trying to figure out, Ana, what exactly happened.
CABRERA: Exactly. And CNN global affairs analyst David Rohde is joining us on the telephone. David, based on early details, again, police saying it's too early to know for sure if this is a terror attack, they have one person in custody. Presumably, they are interviewing that person right now and they believe this is the driver of the vehicle who they are talking to.
You say this is exactly what ISIS wants.
DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Again, we don't know what happened, but if this was some sort of retaliatory attack on Muslims, they do want to sow division. They want people of different faiths, Christians, I guess, frankly, versus Muslims carrying out these kind of attacks.
So, it's a step backwards. I mean, if whoever carried this out thinks he's going to somehow slow this down or this is going to cause radical Muslims to stop their attacks in turn, it's not. This kind of violence will just sort of feed further violence.
So, it's not clear, again, but it's really disturbing if this is what it appears to be.
CABRERA: David, standby. I want to bring back Arsalan Iftikhar. He's senior editor at the "Islamic Monthly".
Arsalan, now that we are learning from police, they are still not calling this a terror incident, saying it's too early to say for sure and that they do have the one person in custody that they believe was the driver of the vehicle. What do you make of this? ARSALAN IFTIKHAR, SENIOR EDITOR, "ISLAMIC MONTHLY": Well, Ana, I think it's important for your viewers to keep in mind that this is not an isolated incident. I mean, we started to see an uptick in attacks against Muslims all across the West.
A few months ago, in Quebec City, Quebec, there were six Muslims who were murdered by a white supremacist in their mosque while praying.
As Juliette Kayyem had mentioned earlier, last hour, Dylann Roof walking into the AME Emanuel Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, sitting with people in Bible study for an hour and then summarily executing nine innocent African-Americans.
Minority groups within their houses of worship are starting to get attacked even more in the West. And I think that it's important to look at it within this holistic totality and again not just as an isolated incident.
CABRERA: Yes. Peter Bergen, what do you think about -- if this indeed is an attack on Muslims and this idea that ISIS is trying to create a them-against-us narrative to fuel their viewpoint, their fire of sorts, does this play into that for them?
BERGEN: Yes, I mean, I think so. I mean, Osama bin Laden firmly believed in a clash of civilizations, in which the West was at war with Muslims. It would be a war that Muslims would inevitably win, and certainly that's the ISIS narrative.
So, yes, if this attack appears to be what it looks like, which is a terrorist attack directed at Muslims, it certainly suits the militants on both sides of this, that tensions are kind of rising and -- but, of course, that narrative is, I don't think, going to produce the results that militants on both sides really want.
I mean, there is no cosmic war between Islam and the West. The kinds of attacks that we've seen in London and elsewhere haven't produced some kind of civilizational war between Islam and the West, which is what ISIS wants.
And the British have had a long history with terrorism and they tend to have a keep-calm-and-carry-on kind of philosophy.
But I would add a caveat to that, which is things can change if there appears to be a campaign of attacks on both sides. Certainly, that produces more uncertainty in the British population. And when the British population wakes up tomorrow morning and finds out about this attack, I think it's going to be very disturbing.
And I will add that it is 3:15 in the morning in London right now. And it is a Sunday night. And, so, the fact that the Metropolitan Police haven't necessarily come to some kind of quick conclusion isn't necessarily surprising for two reasons.
One, it's late at night. And, two, the British police and law enforcement are notoriously careful about statements of fact. They are very, very averse to leaking, as we've known, for the -- there was a great deal of irritation among British law enforcement and British politicians about the leaks that were coming out about the recent attack in London that were coming out of the united states.
So, they are very careful about what they say publicly. And the fact that they have said that they don't as yet know the motivation, I don't really take that as necessarily meaning anything because it's relatively early days in the investigation, it's late at night, and this is a group of people who are very, very careful about what they say publicly.
CABRERA: We are looking at live pictures right now, split screen from different vantage points on the scene. This is, again, in North London in Finsbury Park near the area where this collision happened, a van hitting pedestrians a little after midnight local time.
And, of course, now it's been about three hours that have passed since this incident took place. People are filling the streets, looking for answers and trying to understand exactly what happened there tonight after a prayer service at the local mosque in this neighborhood.
Juliette Kayyem has been with us from the beginning since this story broke. Juliette, again, it's been three hours. The latest word from London Metropolitan Police is that it's too early to say if the London collision is a terror incident.
They do believe they have the driver of the vehicle in custody currently. Does it surprise you we don't have more definitive answers?
KAYYEM: No. I mean, we don't know if he's speaking or not. We don't know if the person that they have in custody may be known to them, may be known to the mosque. There is a series of questions that they will be asking him. We don't know if he's actually speaking.
So, there's all sorts of questions about how this investigation is unfolding, and so waiting on the definitive statement about motivation is well worth the wait because they need to get this right. This is one of those situations where saying something that later proves incorrect or can't be proven in a court of law becomes an embarrassment. It actually can harm people and it can harm populations.
Just to give you a sense of what London may be dealing with now if this is a targeted attack against the Muslim community, there are over 2 million Muslims in the U.K. and 1,500 mosques. So, you think about soft targets. Fifteen hundred of them in the middle of Ramadan or at the end of Ramadan. There is one more week of Ramadan. It ends, I believe, on Saturday, six days from today.
And so, that is a lot of protecting that will need to be done. So, we will wait to see what the definitive statement is. I think what we do know now, though, is that the Muslim population in London will feel threatened by this.
They need to be able to observe their faith with freedom, especially during Ramadan. And so, it's incumbent on the mayor of London and the public safety apparatus to ensure that kind of security for all the families that visit the mosque daily during Ramadan, and that has got to be of primary importance right now for a city that is as diverse as it is, for a mayor who is Muslim and in a country that has suffered a lot, let's say, in the last six weeks.
CABRERA: No doubt about it. They have endured so much. Our hearts just go out to them, dealing with all this adversity right now.
A short time ago, I spoke with a woman who says she was praying inside the mosque when this van struck a group of pedestrians outside the Muslim house of worship. Rayan (ph) describes what she saw and what she heard when she walked outside the mosque to find out what was going on. Take a listen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, basically, we were praying in mosque. And then, when we finished, everyone was leaving. I stayed behind to talk to someone.
After that, I heard some people shouting and screaming. So, I went outside to see what's going on. People were saying go inside, go inside, it's not safe. Then, obviously, I didn't listen and then I kept walking.
And then the crime scene, I saw some people laying down and sadly injured. One of them I believe was dead. And then police moved us. Yes, that's it. That's what happened.
And also, someone was arrested. I believe it was the criminal.
CABRERA: Now, a friend of yours was with someone who was hit, we understand?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry?
CABRERA: I'm being told that a friend of yours was with somebody who was hit by this van.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. My friend, her brother was injured. I couldn't talk to her because police moved me.
CABRERA: What do you know about those people who were injured? And were they all people from the mosque?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. They were -- all of them from mosque when they were leaving.
CABRERA: Did you see how many people were on the ground and may have been injured?
[22:25:01] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, at that time, there were four people. And one of them, I believe, was dead. The rest were badly injured.
(END VIDEOTAPE) CABRERA: Again, that was Rayan, a witness describing the scene of this incident in London shortly after a vehicle plowed into pedestrians. We are now learning it's believed they were worshippers at the mosque in this area.
The Muslim Council of Britain has also tweeted saying, "We have been informed that a van has run over worshippers as they left Finsbury Park mosque. Our prayers are with the victims."
And again, the latest information from the Met Police saying it's still too early to say if the London collision is a terror incident, and that one person is in custody. The spokesman telling us that police believed it was the driver of the vehicle. The vehicle now described as a white van.
We heard from Ian Lee that the witnesses he was talking to on scene tonight are telling him that it looked like the van was accelerating as it hit those people, and that the person inside the van, it's unknown if he was pulled out.
But according to the witnesses that we have been talking to, they describe some of the people who had gathered in the crowd as pushing that individual toward police as police arrived on scene and that police then put that person in their vehicle. We know very little other than that. It's a male individual who they put in their police car.
CNN international correspondent Ian Lee is now joining us again live from the scene. And we see a lot of people on their cell phones, Ian. Obviously, there is a major search for answers tonight.
LEE: Well, that's right, Ana. Just a little while ago, we had people over here, Muslims from the community who performed a prayer. This is a community who does want answers tonight, a lot of people gathered here trying to find out from the police.
So far, not a lot of information is coming out. What we are hearing, though, is coming from these eyewitnesses. And one man I spoke with was just, as he described, inches away from this van when it hit a group of people.
This is a group of people that was just finishing up prayers, the tarawih prayer, which they perform at night during Ramadan, late night prayer. People were leaving the mosque, gathering around. He said that's when he saw this van come careening in and hitting the people.
And he said it didn't look like he was trying to stop. It looked like he was trying to accelerate into this crowd. He said a number of people he saw, at least five, were hit by this van. One person was immobilized, was not responsive to people who were trying to help him.
Also saying that the driver of the van was apprehended. And it's -- we're unsure if he was pulled from the van or if he tried to escape and run away, but the locals were able to apprehend him and then hand him over to the police, which is, Ana, quite crucial because then the police can interrogate him to find out exactly what happened. When we've seen attacks in the past, usually the suspects are killed, so the police won't be able to question him. So, this is going to be crucial to figure out exactly the motive behind this and why this person did it.
What we're hearing, it was a man who was behind the wheel. And we saw a lot of emergency personnel, a lot of vehicles coming in and out, possibly ferrying people to a hospital for treatment.
But right now, definitely, Ana, as you said, this is a community trying to seek answers about why this happened.
CABRERA: And now, of course, this is a time too where the London area has been under attack in recent weeks in the U.K. There were three terror attacks leading up to this in just three months' time.
Again, police, in this incident, not calling it a terror attack, not going there yet, saying it's still too early to say, but they do say that it's believed that it was worshippers who were coming out of a mosque and those were the people who were hit.
We have a new statement I want to read from the Tell MAMA organization. And it says the Tell MAMA project will provide a means for such incidents to be reported, recorded and analyzed, working to ensure this data is accurate and reliable and the victims and witnesses affected receive support.
This project also works with police forces across England, Wales, and Scotland in order to ensure access to justice for victims through the prosecution of perpetrators. And Tell MAMA supports the victims of anti-Muslim hate and is a public service which also measures and monitors anti-Muslim incidents. It is not meant to be a replacement for the police service. In an emergency, please call 999.
So, right now, we are seeing community, again, trying to make sense of exactly what is happening in London tonight. And it appears to me, Ian, that the streets are only getting more and more full of people who are coming to the scene.
[22:30:03] Are police interacting with any of the folks on scene or are they simply just standing there stoically?
LEE: Standing there stoically, Ana. I've tried to speak with a couple of them. They say they don't know anything. They said they are just there to have a cordon.
And you can see -- I don't know if you can, but there's vehicles that are now blocking the road. But earlier, there was a police cordon, police officers just standing across the road.
I've been around to several areas, several roads that were leading to the site of this incident. And you saw the same thing, heavy police presence here, but none of the police talking to the people.
And you do have residents here, Ana, who do want to have information. I saw one instance a little while ago where someone got heated because he wanted to know what happened. Someone that he knew was at that mosque at the time, unsure what the status of that person is.
But this is a community who does want to know. And over the course of the night -- I've been here for over an hour now. I've seen more and more people come to try to figure out what exactly happened.
And while the police are very cautious to say, they are not yet calling this a terrorist attack. When you talk to the people here, they say, this is very similar to what happened on London Bridge, and that was called a terrorist attack. They say this isn't any different. A man drove a van into a group of people. from what the eyewitness said, that it looked like it was deliberate. So, they are saying that they believe that this is a terrorist attack.
CABRERA: All right. Ian Lee, standby. I want to read that statement again from Tell MAMA, an anti-Islamophobia charity. I apparently was reading some background on the organization too recently.
But this is their statement. On Friday, we were at the Muslim Welfare House making the case for people to report an anti-Muslim hate. We know this area well and it is a mixed area and the MWH caters for the poorest in society.
At the mosque, we were making clear that reporting an anti-Muslim hate is key to tackling anti-Muslim hate, just sending out a message that it is not acceptable. Again, that statement was from Tell MAMA, an anti-Islamophobia charity.
I want to bring in Dean Obeidallah. He's joining us tonight via Skype, I believe.
I know, Dean, this is an incident that's probably touching you personally since you are Muslim and we've talked about the incidents of hate crimes on the rise. We don't know what this is exactly yet.
Police are saying it's too early to call this a terrorist event and that they are working -- continuing their investigation. They do have somebody in custody who they believe was the driver of the vehicle who plowed into the pedestrians tonight and people on the scene telling us those pedestrians were people coming from the mosque there, celebrating Ramadan prayer. What is your reaction?
DEAN OBEIDALLAH, CNN OPINION CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's certainly heart breaking. You have people just going to their places of worship, like Christians would go on Christmas or Jews would go on the High Holy Days, and leaving -- and potentially -- we don't know for sure. But it seems potentially they could be targeted for their faith. And you hope that's not the scenario. I mean, you have to hope it's just an accident.
But you've seen some terrorist attacks in the U.K. recently. You've seen a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric going on in the U.K. We even had President Trump attack Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London who is a Muslim.
But here back at home, this week alone, we had a man, Robert Doggart, sentenced to 20 years -- 19 years and 10 months in prison for plotting to kill Muslims in Upstate New York.
And sadly, that gets very little mainstream media coverage. In December, a man, Glendon Scott Crawford, was sentenced to 30 years to life. Why? For plotting to kill Muslims in America.
In Canada, in January, a man walks into a mosque and killed six people. I hope this is not an anti-Muslim terror attack, but I would not be surprised at all in looking at the rhetoric, the anti-Muslim rhetoric, the plot even in our own country here to slaughter Muslims.
And I hope the media here will cover it a little bit more. Makes us all safe and we're on guard against all threats.
CABRERA: You talk about the media's role in raising awareness of these situations. What else can we as a society do, do you think, to try to deescalate this animosity and try to better understand each other?
OBEIDALLAH: Well, I think frankly the mainstream media overall does a good job in what they do. They're reporting the stories. I think you have sensational voices on certain media outlets on the right in America that gin up fear of Muslims.
You see it -- and I'm saying this because it's true, not to be partisan, but you see on Fox News, you see on the Breitbarts out there really demonizing Muslims, portraying us as threats to America.
You have people in the White House now, like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka. You had Michael Flynn who is no longer part of the administration who was on the board of directors for ACT for America, a group that Southern Poverty Law Center calls the biggest anti-Muslim group in America.
You have Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, got an award last year from ACT for America. So, you have a direct line from the White House to anti-Muslim bigotry. I really hope, as a nation, we can take a step back and stop over-sensationalizing hate.
We saw a horrific attack this week on a member of Congress. Other members of Congress could have been hurt. It's all part and parcel of the same thing. It's demonizing -- ginning up fear, irrationally ginning up fear and people responding in the worst way possible to violence. So, I'm concerned.
CABRERA: Dean, standby with me. I want to go back to Phil Black. He is CNN international correspondent on the scene there in London right now. He's joining us via phone.
We are watching the live images, Phil. And it looks like a London police officer just went out and spoke with a crowd. We saw the crowd kind of gather around and then he went back behind this area that's cordoned off.
Do you know what was going on?
BLACK: Well, precisely, Ana. The crowd here is, as you can imagine, is a little agitated. There is a mix of people here. These are people who are either in or around the mosque or other locals who have simply come out to get a sense of what's going on, having seen all the commotion. But as I say, quite agitated here, I think it is fair to say.
I can give you a little context, if you like, about this particular mosque in this particular Muslim community in Finsbury Park in North London because it was for a time really quite notorious.
If you're going back ten years now or so now when this particular mosque was known as something of a -- it had a real link to extremist views. And more than that, there was a particular cleric based here, a man named Abu Hamza who was prosecuted here in the United Kingdom and also, I believe, sent to the United States for trial there as well because of his role in preaching hate and promoting violent acts.
And as I say, that was some ten years or so ago that that particular man was finally arrested, put on trial and so forth. Put on trial here first, I think in the U.S. second.
Since then, it has come under new management. And I know that it has gone out of its way over the years to really clean itself out, clean up its act and work very hard at becoming a healthy active member of the community.
And there have been no issues here for a very, very long time now. But I know I have read over the years, British media reports from people at the mosque talking about how they have been the victims of hate mail and threat. They have also been targeted by extreme right wing protest groups, anti-Islam groups and so forth.
I think I read at one point about a pig's head being delivered to the mosque or left at the mosque. These sorts of acts.
There has been this concern within the community, this concern within the mosque itself, particularly over the years as it has worked to try and reshape its reputation, to try and shed that reputation for extremism, for sort of contributing, if you like, to extremist thought, ideology, and indeed perhaps violent acts themselves. The community here has been concerned. But they say, working very hard to try and get past all of that.
Now, we don't know if this was that sort of attack, an anti-Islamic attack, some sort of reprisal attack. We don't know that yet. The police aren't saying that yet. They're saying, I think as you reported, it's too early to say if it's terrorism. They are not talking about motive at this stage.
But if that is what it turns out to be, then that will no doubt be extremely disappointing, extremely concerning to the authorities and to the broader people of London because as this year has progressed and as we've seen several terror attacks now in London, in addition to that terrible one in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert.
As these events have taken place, the authorities, indeed the British people themselves, particularly Londoners, I've got to say, they are going out of their way to stress unity, to stress the fact that this is, Ana, a mixing part of the city where people get along and they are famously tolerant and people are allowed to express their faith and so forth.
And indeed, stress the fact that Londoners don't hold all Muslims accountable for the sorts of violent acts that have been taking place in this country in recent months.
Now, again, I stress, we don't know what the motivation behind this was. The authorities themselves are still not saying specifically whether they believe this was deliberate or not, but this particular mosque, it was notorious for a time.
For more than ten years now, it has been -- really come under new management, very much going out of its way to clean up its act to become a healthy, functioning member of the London community. And it has over the years complained about receiving threats and hate messages and has been targeted for protest by anti-Islam groups and so forth.
[22:40:09] So, that's the context of the area where we are now standing in North London tonight. The context of this particular Muslim community, you wouldn't describe it as its recent history, certainly not the extremist element and that aspect to it. But more recently, as I say, this is a community that has been working very, very hard, so the people managing the mosque say, to shed that reputation that it had for a time.
And it's where tonight, according to witnesses, they say, this van drove through people and where bystanders then rushed to them and held someone which we now believe is the person that is currently in police custody, Ana.
CABRERA: That is according to police. They say they believe that it was the driver of the vehicle who they have in custody.
When you talked about the emotions there on the ground there, Phil, it's understandable. People are emotional after such a traumatic event.
You mentioned that it seemed that the crowd was getting agitated. Why? Is it because they're worried? Are they angry? Give us a better sense of what the feeling is.
BLACK: I think that if this does turnout to be -- I think people here are worried that, yes, they were deliberately targeted. If that turns out to be the case, then that's their concern. That's what they would be worried about. That sort of hate and intolerance, that would be a real blow to this community, a real blow to London more broadly, as I say.
As a city that has been working very, very, very hard to maintain a sense of unity and inclusion in the face of these terrible, violent acts that had deliberately sought to divide the city and divide communities. So, people here are worried. Some of the people who actually things unfold, you can understand, they will be a little emotional, little agitated having seen this happen tonight. And as people here talk and exchange stories, they are concerned about what this could mean for them, for their community, for London more broadly, Ana.
CABRERA: I want to bring back CNN'S national security analyst Peter Bergen who is with us on the phone. Peter, you and Phil Black have talked about the past history of this particular mosque in the neighborhood where all of this happened, off Seven Sisters Road, in the north of Central London area, Finsbury Park area.
And this mosque believed to be -- Finsbury Park mosque specifically known to have connections to terrorism, a place where militants in the past have been known to visit. How does a mosque like that with such a reputation turn things around to breakthrough, to show that it's mainstream and that it has a healthy religious identity?
BERGEN: Well, I had visited the mosque when it was run by Abu Hamza al-Masri who is now serving a life sentence in an American prison. And Abu Hamza al-Masri was somebody who attracted young Islamist militants in London, including people like the Richard Reid, the so- called Shoe Bomber, who tried to bring down an American Airlines flight between Paris and Miami shortly after 9/11, Zacchaeus Masari (ph) who was misidentified as the potential 20th hijacker and others.
And he was a cleric of this mosque several years before 9/11 and a few years after 9/11. Basically, after the attacks in London on July 7, 2005 which killed 52 British commuters on the London transportation system, the English government cracked down on clerics like Abu Hamza.
He went into the British -- he was being convicted in a British court for inciting racial hatred. And then, he was extradited to the United States for terrorism charges here in the United States and he's serving a life sentence.
In fairness, this was a long time ago now relatively speaking. He was in charge of the mosque until 2003. But the reason I think this is relevant is, if indeed this was an act of terrorism, this is a mosque that would be pretty symbolic to somebody who had this intent because of its connections to Islamist militancy.
And as Ian is reporting, clearly, the mosque has turned itself around, is under new management, and that's all fair enough. But in an effort to try and understand the motivations of the attacker, I think this history might be relevant if indeed there was a political intent here.
CABRERA: Well, it's interesting because we just got a tweet now from the London mayor who is not calling this anything more than a major incident. Here's what he tweeted.
"Emergency services are on the scene and investigating a major incident at Finsbury Park. Follow @Metpoliceuk and @Ldn_ambulance for details," he writes.
[22:45:03] So, people being very, very cautious. The officials on the ground being very cautious about how they are characterizing exactly what happened.
Juliette, when you hear that tweet from the mayor, you and I were speaking earlier that it was interesting that he hadn't said anything, that officials were being so hush-hush. What do you think this is all about? He doesn't even bring up anything about religion and Muslims and the mosque in this tweet.
KAYYEM: Right. So, this is -- sorry. This is the gap between social media, eyewitness accounts, and a public statement. If you look on social media now, what we certainly heard from your eyewitness accounts, even from the reporting, there is a narrative that this was a targeted attack against Muslims leaving a mosque on Ramadan.
But proving that right now will take a little bit longer. And so, what happens in these situations, having been in the room in government when there is all this information coming out and you just don't know what's true or not, is basically the mayor and the Metropolitan Police have put down a marker to say they are aware of what has happened. They are saving lives. That's the most important thing right now. And then a motive will come later.
Presumably, they are doing interviews right now of the man who was held and what his motivation was and what he intended to do and why he was there at that time and whether he was known to police or to the mosque itself, to members of the mosque itself.
That may take a few hours. So, I'm not at all -- I'm not at all concerned about that gap. In other words, you're going to hear firsthand accounts. You're going to see on Twitter lots of statements being made. Those have not been validated by law enforcement yet.
It doesn't mean that they're not true. It just means that we do hold law enforcement and our mayors to a higher standard than people on Twitter or eyewitness accounts.
So, we will, as I often say, unfortunately, Ana, too many weekends, nights lately, time sometimes is not on our side when we want to get the information quickly, but we do have to have some patience. It will be morning soon in London.
I anticipate they will need a narrative for people getting on the subway, going to work, leaving their families. And Ramadan is still one more week away. I believe it ends on Saturday night. They have over a thousand mosques in Britain. They need to assure the community that they are safe and that all has to happen relatively quickly.
CABRERA: I want to bring in Dean Obeidallah again. And, Dean, again, the latest information now, the London mayor saying, "Emergency services are on the scene and investigating a major incident at Finsbury Park. Follow @Metpoliceuk and @Ldn_ambulance for details."
And the police and the ambulance are giving very few details. Only saying there's a number of casualties after a van hit pedestrians in this area. In fact, the London Metropolitan Police saying it's too early to say if the London collision is a terror incident and that they have one person in custody, and say they believe it was the driver of that vehicle.
But we've also been speaking to witnesses. And people on the ground there feel very strongly that Muslims were targeted by the person who was driving this van. There is a heightened emotion in that area, as we heard from Phil Black.
How do they -- how would you say is the best way for them to channel this energy and emotion that they're feeling?
OBEIDALLAH: I think the biggest thing is to wait and let's find out the facts. And that's easier said than done because if you look at social media right now, they are telling everyone what happened. They are making conclusions. They may be right, they may be wrong in the long run.
But it is certainly ginning up fear and it's irresponsible. But that's what Twitter is about. And you're going to have some people on the right in the U.K, like Tommy Robertson, a horrible guy on the right out there, literally blaming Muslims for this attack, saying, well, Muslims have attacked us, so this is sort of what they get.
You see this back and forth. And I'm sure in America, if you see certain right-wing people on the media -- on Twitter, you're going to see some scary words.
I'll be honest with you. The Muslim community in the U.K. after the Manchester attack very publicly made it clear they denounce terrorism. Did whatever they could to stand unified with their fellow U.K. citizens to say we're in all this together. You have the mayor of London who is a Muslim. It says so much about the people of London that they elected -- the first major city in the west, they have a Muslim mayor is in London.
So, the people there are good people. Too often, I think, even myself, are fixated on the extreme voices. That doesn't define the people there.
And I hope the Muslim community there understand don't let the right- wing people in the U.K. define what the people in your own city are about. They voted for Sadiq Khan. They are open-minded. They're embracing their tolerance. There is always going to be some haters.
And, right now, I mean, you see on Twitter, people are like, oh, they'll never call a white man a terrorist, that's sort of a theme we hear a lot. Let's see what happens. If this man is a terrorist, I have no doubt the mayor of London and law enforcement there will deem it a terrorist attack.
But turns out it was an accident or it was a man mentally ill, then so be it. Let's see how it plays out.
CABRERA: Given that Muslims were involved in this incident, in that these were people who were leaving a mosque according to the Muslim Council of Britain that tweeted out, "We have been informed that a van has run over worshippers as they left Finsbury Park mosque. Our prayers are with the victims." Dean, does it surprise you that the London mayor didn't mention anything about Islam or Muslims in his statement?
OBEIDALLAH: I think we're seeing an elected official who is very responsible and measured. And I think we have sort of gotten used to something different in America. But I think there was a time when you saw elected officials like Mayor Khan who are -- he's going to wait. There's no reason for him to jump to conclusions. it would be irresponsible for him to say it was one thing or the other.
Let's see how the facts go. If it was a terrorist attack, I hope that the law enforcement in the U.K. will treat it the same way they view something that's involving an ISIS-inspired attack. What I mean by that is investigate not only the terrorist, his family, friends, make arrests of anybody involved.
If there are cells involved of right-wing terrorists in the U.K., arrest them, crack down them if it turns out to be a terrorist act. I'm not saying it is. But I hope they'll treat it the same. And that makes them, the Muslim community there as well as in the West -- around the whole West feel like we have the same standard.
If you're a Muslim, if you commit a terror attack, you'll be treated this way. And if you're not a Muslim and you commit a terror attack, you will be treated the exact same way, the same veracity of investigation, the same pursuit of everyone involved and you make the arrests, and the investigation goes where it's going to go.
CABRERA: And police and the people of London searching for answers, pursuing that information into exactly what happened this evening. It happened just after midnight where we have learned that a car or a van plowed into pedestrians, according to police, that were leaving a place of worship in that area, a mosque where they were having prayers during this month of Ramadan.
This happening on Seven Sisters Road, the Finsbury Park neighborhood that's north of Central London. Reports of a vehicle in collision with pedestrians was the first tweet that police put out and they said they went to the scene with other emergency services.
There are a number of casualties who were being worked on at the scene and that one person has been arrested.
And most recent information we're getting from them is that they are still saying it's too early to say if the London collision is a terror incident. It has now been almost four hours since this incident first unfolded.
CNN international correspondent Ian Lee is joining us again from the scene. And, Ian, what's the update from there?
LEE: Ana, one thing that we've heard from now multiple witnesses is that they believe that there could have been other people in that van. One witness said that he believes that there was at least one more person. Another witness saying that there could have been at least two more people. So, if that is the case, definitely the police are going to be trying to look for anyone else who could be connected to this attack, or this incident rather.
And when they interview, when they interrogate the driver, they will hopefully be able to get that kind of information out of them to get a better picture of what exactly happened.
It's been about three hours now since the incident took place. And you can still see, people are gathering here, people still wanting to get answers about what exactly happened tonight.
And from witnesses, what they are telling us is that this van careened into a group of people who had just left a mosque after prayer. This van accelerating into that crowd. A number of people hit. At least one person according to the witness was unresponsive.
And then, they were able to get the driver and apprehend him. Still don't know if they pulled him from the van or if he tried to run away from the scene of the incident, but one witness said that people grabbed him. There was -- they roughed him up a bit, but then people calmed down.
They then moved him away from the scene and then were able to hand him over to police. And that is, again, very crucial, Ana, because in incidents like this in the past, in terrorist attacks in the past, they haven't been able to really apprehend these suspects because they are killed in the incident. So, this is crucial to figure out what exactly happened.
[22:55:08] But, as you can see, still 3:00, 4:00 in the morning here, people around still wanting to find out what exactly happened in their community. This was a mosque that a lot of people here attended. People knew people who were at the mosque at the time. They just want answers at this point, Ana.
CABRERA: All right. Ian Lee, standby. CNN international correspondent Phil Black is also at the scene. He's joining us by the phone.
Phil, what's the mood of the crowd where you are?
BLACK: Well, Ana, I can move the camera here and show you. You can see the police line behind me. We are just a short distance down the road from where we believe this incident took place.
If we move the camera this way now, you get a sense of the crowd that is here, waiting to find out precisely what's going on. Some of these people, we understand, were in the immediate area. We've spoken to people tonight who say that they witnessed a vehicle hit those people. They saw the crowd of bystanders move up and actually apprehend at least one person who they say was the driver of the vehicle there.
And as you know, that was some hours ago now. Since then, they have been here. They have been talking. They have been swapping stories about what they believe they saw and so forth. There is a somewhat agitated mood here because there is a feeling that they, their community, their mosque was targeted directly. That's the feeling they are talking about here tonight.
Now, we haven't heard from the police precisely what the motivation for this was. They are not going into that just yet. But we know that that's how some people here definitely feel. And we know that, over the years, the mosque managers have talked about receiving hate mail and threats and being targeted by anti-Islam protests and so forth.
So, we know, according to the mosque and the people who run it, they feel that they have come under that sort of pressure before. And of course, here in the U.K. at the moment, well, things are a little tense. Things are a little nervous. We've seen some violent terrorist attacks, two in London recently, one in Manchester.
Through all of that, London, the officials, the authorities here, particularly the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, London's first Muslim mayor, he's been going out of his way, all the authorities here, and indeed so many people here, have been going out of their way to stress that this is a unified city, that it will not be brought undone by any sort of act of violence for whatever reason.
So, if this does turn out to be some form of reprisal attack, and the authorities aren't saying that yet, but if it does, and the description, if it proves to be deliberate, would seem to indicate that, then that will be enormously concerning, not just to the people of this community, who will no doubt feel very specifically targeted, but, of course, for the people of London and the U.K. more broadly because this really isn't what they want.
They do not want to see this sort of response to individual acts of violence, Ana.
CABRERA: It is disturbing regardless. Phil Black, are you hearing similar accounts from the witnesses you're talking to that there could have been more than one individual involved?
BLACK: Yes, we've heard that from a couple people, yes. So, some people -- it's hard to say -- think there may have been possibly two people in the vehicle. I don't know how solid that is at this stage.
We're not hearing that confirmed the police. The police have not said they are looking for additional person. Some witnesses say they think they may have seen a second person. They know there was one person. That's the person that they all rushed up and say that bystanders grabbed and held until the police arrived and the police have, obviously, confirmed they do have one person in custody.
So, there is talk of more than person in the vehicle, but that hasn't been confirmed by the police here yet, Ana.
CABRERA: And we see that there is a large police presence on scene and they are just standing behind that line, cordoning off the area. Do you know what their purpose is? Are they just trying to protect the area for evidence collection or what more can you tell us about what's happening behind you?
BLACK: Pretty standard procedure, I think, for any sort of major incident and we've seen it a few times in London recently that whenever there is some sort of significant incident, they set up a perimeter at some distance.
Behind that perimeter, behind those police officers, behind that van up the road, that is where officers will be speaking to some witnesses, that is where they will be attempting to gather forensic evidence, that is where the actual investigation will be taking place as police attempt to build a picture -- A precise picture of just what happened here tonight and why.
We've seen people being let out past this line every so often. So, I don't know if these are just people who happen to be stranded up in that area between the police lines or if these are people that the authorities have, in fact, been interviewing and speaking to, but they have been letting people go through.
The real police work is taking place just a short distance up the road from where we are now.
CABRERA: All right. Phil Black reporting live on the scene in London. You've been watching CNN'S coverage of the breaking coverage out of London. A van striking a crowd of pedestrians, causing a number of casualties.
Our live coverage continues now with Cyril Vanier and Rosemary Church.