A British police officer was on Wednesday stabbed and his attacker shot dead near the British Parliament complex, in what Scotland Yard are describing as a "terrorist incident".
In a related incident, a woman was killed when a speeding grey Hyundai i40 mowed down several pedestrians on Westminster Bridge nearby before ramming into the iron railings on the side of the Palace of Westminster - which houses the House of Commons and Lords as well as the iconic Big Ben.
Several injuries were reported as a result of this crash with bodies seen lying on the bridge and one over-board in the river Thames. The French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed that among those injured are some French students who were in Britain on a study tour. The London Ambulance Service confirmed that they have treated at least ten injured persons on Westminster Bridge. "We are treating this as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise," the Metropolitan Police said on Twitter. The incident unfolded as a man tried to gain entry into the Parliament via the main entrance and stabbed a police officer. Plainclothes armed officers shouted warnings at him before shooting a number of rounds. He was later seen being covered by blankets, presumed dead.
Following this, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May will chair a meeting of the government emergency committee to discuss the response to the terror incident in London. The emergency committee known as Cobra coordinates the high-level response to serious incidents. It brings together government ministers with senior officials of the emergency services and security and intelligence agencies.
Such meetings are held after serious incidents such at the 7 July, 2005, attack on London transport services. The Wednesday meeting is held in the briefing room of the Cabinet Office on Whitehall.
Meanwhile, the official statement put out by the Metropolitan Police confirms a number of casualties but refused to confirm any deaths or reveal the nature of injuries. The police also asked the citizens to remain vigilant and report any suspicious incident or person to the emergency service.
Incident in #Westminster: Please report anything suspicious to the Anti-Terrorist Hotline 0800 789 123. In an emergency call 999
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) March 22, 2017
May, who had just completed her weekly Prime Minister’s Questions, was seen being ushered into a car as gunfire rang out at Parliament during the incident.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister was "safe" as emergency services helicopter was seen landing in Parliament Square, which has been cordoned off and closed to traffic.
"We are treating this as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise," the Metropolitan Police said on Twitter. According to reports so far, the incident unfolded as a man tried to gain entry into the Parliament via the main entrance and stabbed a police officer.
Plain-clothes armed officers warned him before shooting a number of rounds. He was later seen being covered by blankets, presumed dead. In a related incident, a speeding vehicle mowed down several pedestrians on Westminster Bridge nearby before ramming into the side of the House of Commons building.
It remains unclear how many attackers may have been involved in the terror incident. Commons Leader David Lidington, who suspended the Parliament session as the incident unfolded outside, told MPs the "alleged assailant was shot by armed police".
"It seems that a police officer has been stabbed, that the alleged assailant was shot by armed police. An air ambulance is currently attending the scene to remove the casualties," Lidington said.
"There are also reports of further violent incidents in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster but I hope colleagues on all sides will appreciate that it'd be wrong of me to go into further details until we have confirmation from the police and from the House security authorities about what is going on," he added.
Press Association political editor Andrew Woodcock, who witnessed the scenes unfolding from his office window, said, "I heard shouts and screams from outside and looked out, and there was a group of maybe 40 or 50 people running round the corner from Bridge Street into Parliament Square. "They appeared to be running away from something.
"As the group arrived at the Carriage Gates, where policemen are posted at the security entrance, a man suddenly ran out of the crowd and into the yard. "He seemed to be holding up a long kitchen knife," he said.
An eye witness, Radoslaw Sikorski, a senior fellow at Harvard's Centre for European Studies, posted a video to Twitter purporting to show people lying injured in the road on Westminster Bridge.
He wrote: "A car on Westminster Bridge has just mowed down at least 5 people." Transport for London said Westminster underground station has been shut at the police's request, and buses diverted.
The threat level for international terrorism in the UK was already listed at severe. Wednesday was the anniversary of suicide bombings in the Brussels airport and subway that killed 32 people, and the latest events echoed recent vehicle attacks in Berlin and Nice, France. There was no immediate claim of responsibility and it was not clear if there was more than one attacker. London Police Commander B.J. Harrington said a full counter-terrorism investigation was underway.
British security has thwarted some 13 terror plots over the past four years, but the UK has largely been spared major international terror attacks such as the ones seen in Belgium and France.
Last year, a far-right supporter shot and killed British lawmaker Jo Cox, who had campaigned for the UK to remain in the European Union. Prior to that, an attacker stabbed three people at a train station in east London in response to the Royal Air Force's bombing of the Islamic State group in Syria.
The most gruesome recent attack occurred in 2013 when two Muslim converts of Nigerian descent attacked Lee Rigby, a British Army soldier who was walking down the street. The men ran Rigby down with their vehicle and then used a cleaver to hack him to death as bystanders watched in horror.
The worst peace time attack on Britain this century was on 7 July, 2005, when four Al-Qaida-inspired bombers blew themselves up on three subway trains and a bus in London, killing 52. Three of the bombers were British-born, all of Pakistani descent; the other emigrated from Jamaica.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Mar 22, 2017 23:09:58 IST