London has been rocked by a terrorist incident that took place close to the Palace of Westminster. The Metropolitan Police have closed the roads surrounding of the Palace and are treating the situation as the scene of two terrorist incidents. The House of Commons was sitting at the time and Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle suspended the session and ordered that the Commons Chamber was locked down. Prime Minister Theresa May was evacuated and Downing Street later confirmed that she was unharmed. The session of the Scottish Parliament has also been suspended following the news out of London.
The incident occurred at around 14:40 London time. People were first alerted to the carnage after a loud bang was heard around the Westminster village. Eyewitnesses claimed that a car deliberately targeted pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, with this later confirmed by surveillance footage. Initial reports suggested that there were two assailants however this later turned out to be false.
After plowing through pedestrians on the bridge the assailant stabbed a police officer. He tried to enter the Palace of Westminster but was shot by armed police. Police then secured area so that the assailant could be airlifted to hospital. Later in the evening Channel 4 news falsely claimed that Trevor Brooks, also known as Abu Izzadeen, was the assailant but this was corrected after it was established that he was still in prison.
At the time of writing 4 people were confirmed as dead, including PC Keith Palmer- the police officer who was stabbed by the assailant- and the perpetrator himself. It is important to stress, however, that given the number of people in hospital this number may yet rise.
Reaction to the days events was largely resolute. London Mayor Sadiq Khan called for calm and said that “Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism”. Theresa May addressed the media from the steps of Downing Street and said that the attacks were “sick and depraved”. The Islamic Society of Britain also vocally condemned the attacks. The overwhelming majority of people were expressing their condolences for those that died and were reluctant to say anything as events were unfolding rapidly and information about the attack was scarcely available.
A nice touch came from across the English Channel. After the Paris terror attacks in 2015, buildings around the UK were emblazoned with the Tricolore, and the words ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ were also widely on display. Today this display of solidarity was mirrored when the Eiffel Tower had all its lights turned off and people observed an impromptu moment of silence.
However this was not universal. Tommy Robinson, the far-right activist and former leader of the English Defence League, went onto Rebel TV, a far-right Canadian news programme to launch a tirade against Islamic fundamentalism. Although the pattern of the attack mimics those carried out by Muslim terrorists, it’s important to point out that when he launched into his depraved rant it was unclear who the assailant was.
But even if the perpetrator was Muslim, that doesn’t justify standing metres away from the scene of a terrorist attack and condemning an entire religion. This vicious little man needs to be shown that people will not be tricked into accepting his vile message. Rather, we will stand in solidarity with Muslim communities across the country, many of whom are now worried about potential harassment from far-right groups in the wake of the attack.
Events like this are not simply to inflict pain on those people injured, as the perpetrator could have carried out an attack anywhere. The Palace of Westminster was targeted because it is a symbol of democracy. However imperfect that system may be, democratic principles need to be maintained and strengthened in the wake of these kinds of attacks. Irrespective of their ideology, these kinds of people are authoritarians who want to impose their worldview on people by force.
What must now prevail is an attitude that emphasises that what makes our society different to what these authoritarians want is our civil liberties. In recent years people have been too willing to let their civil liberties be violated in the name of ‘counter-terrorism’. We need to remain vigilant to prevent our rights being infringed in the coming weeks because otherwise the perpetrators of these attacks would have succeeded in changing our society for the worse.