An elderly American woman was on Thursday stabbed to death and five others including foreigners were injured when a suspected mentally ill teen went on a rampage with a knife in central London, in an attack police said could be linked to terror. A 19-year-old Norwegian national of Somali origin was arrested using a Taser gun on suspicion of carrying out the “random” mass knife attack at Russell Square near the popular British Museum in central London at 10.39 pm (local time yesterday), Scotland Yard said.
An American woman, in her 60s, was killed in the attack that also injured two other women and as many men, police said but there was “no evidence of radicalisation” in the assault. The victims include Australian, American, Israeli and British citizens. London Mayor Sadiq Khan called for “calm and vigilance” the people, whose safety he said “is my number one priority” as Londoners woke up this morning to notice an increased presence on the streets of officers following the attack that comes days after a public warning against ISIS-inspired assaults.
The attack also came on a day Scotland Yard announced that 600 additional armed officers will be deployed around London’s major sites, including British Museum, as part of anti-terror plans in the wake of ISIS attacks in Europe, and days after Metropolitan Police chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said a terror attack in the UK was a case of “when, not if.” However, Metropolitan police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley in a statement outside Scotland Yard headquarters here said that “at this point we believe this is a spontaneous attack and the victims were selected at random”.
Police were called following reports of a man armed with a knife was attacking people and “armed officers attended the scene within approximately five minutes of receiving the first call”. An eye witness who saw the events unfold from her hotel window told BBC she saw a black man running down the street. Other witnesses said that when the “large man” stabbed the people he did not shout or scream anything.
“A Taser was discharged during the arrest of the suspect, a 19-year-old man. No shots were fired. After receiving treatment at hospital he currently remains in custody at south London police station,” a Scotland Yard statement said. Two victims remain in hospital but are not suffering from life-threatening injuries while the others have been discharged, police said, adding early indications suggested that “mental health was a factor in this horrific attack.”
While Metropolitan police earlier said “terrorism is one possibility being explored at this stage” in the wake of a string of recent attacks in Europe, the latest from the force is that “we continue to focus our lines of inquiry on mental health while retaining an open mind regarding the motive”. Khan said his “heart goes out to the victims of the incident and their loved ones” and appealed to the public to report anything suspicious to the police.