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Imam praised for protecting Finsbury Park suspect from crowd

Vehicle hits mosque worshippers in London

Three men who say they helped to restrain the suspect in the attack near a north London mosque have praised an imam who urged the crowd not to do him any harm.

After a van ploughed into a group of people in Finsbury Park, members of the public wrestled the suspect to the ground. An imam from the Muslim Welfare House then urged the crowd to remain calm.

“The imam came from the mosque and he said ‘listen we are fasting, this is Ramadan, we are not supposed to do these kinds of things so please step back,” said Mohammed, one of three men who held the suspect down.

“For that reason this guy is still alive today,” added the 29-year-old cafe owner. “This is the only reason. If the imam was not there he wouldn’t be there today.”

The imam was named by the Muslim Welfare House as Mohammed Mahmoud. In a statement Toufik Kacimi, the mosque and welfare centre’s chief executive, praised Mahmoud’s bravery which he said “helped calm the immediate situation after the incident and prevented further injuries and potential loss of life”.

Footage captured on mobile phones at the scene when the man was being held on the ground captures the voice of a man shouting: “No one touch him – no one! No one!”

Other witnesses corroborated the cafe owner Mohammed’s account of the incident. Adil Rana, 24, who was outside the mosque when the van drove towards the crowd, said that initially some people had attacked the suspect.

“The driver jumped out and then he was pinned down to the floor and people were punching him and beating him, which was reasonable because of what he’s done,” he said. “And then the imam of the mosque actually came out and said: ‘Don’t hit him, hand him over to the police, pin him down’.”

Hussain Ali, 28, said: “The leader of the mosque said: ‘You do not touch him’. He was sitting and holding him like that, people kept holding him.”

The three men, who were sitting outside a cafe at the time of the incident, described their effort to subdue the suspected attacker and his reaction. “There was no regret, no emotion, he was just there smiling and blowing kisses. He said I’ve done what I’m supposed to do,” said Mohammed, who acted as spokesman for the group.

One of the men, who asked not to be named, said shortly before the attack, an elderly man had been taken ill on the street and he and others were attending to him and calling an ambulance when the lorry, driving along Seven Sisters Road at speed, hit pedestrians.

The men described how the driver tried to drive up Whadcoat Street, a cul de sac, but was unable to vault a tall gate that blocked his path. “We ran after him and chased him around the van,” one said. They described him as a tattooed white man in his late 40s, about 6ft 2in tall and with greyish black hair.

“We had him on the floor, three of us. He was quite strong for an old man. He wasn’t having any of it.”

They claimed that he shouted Islamophobic slurs as they caught him. “He even said this is for London Bridge.”

Amid the chaos one of them was pinned against the wall by police. “They were asking me, are you part of it?” The police suggested he might be viewed as disturbing the peace if he did not leave the scene, he said.

“I’m holding the guy, the guy who died; they [the police] told me get away, we are going to arrest you for disturbing the peace,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “This is the life we are living.”

The trio were sitting outside Costa, unable to go home as they had left their keys in the cafe, which is now behind the police cordon. The police had said they could go to the town hall to sleep but they regarded this suggestion as ridiculous. “He [the suspect] has got somewhere to sleep today but I don’t have somewhere to sleep,” Mohammed said.

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