‘Mental health’ a significant factor in London stabbing spree that left one dead, five injured: police

London police say 19-year old man is arrested at the scene but don’t rule out terrorism

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 10:31am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 10:38pm

A US woman was killed and five people injured in a knife attack in central London Wednesday which police said they are investigating for possible terrorist links.

A 19-year-old Norwegian man of Somali origin was arrested in Russell Square, in the city centre, which was cordoned off after the attack as police swarmed the area.

A 60-year-old US woman was treated at the scene but was pronounced dead a short time later. The other injured people – one woman and four men - were treated in hospital and three were later discharged.

The man detained by police was arrested on suspicion of murder.

“So far we have found no evidence of radicalisation or anything that would suggest the man in our custody was motivated by terrorism,” said Mark Rowley, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

“The suspect is a Norwegian national of Somali ancestry,” Rowley said. “I stress, though, that all the [investigation] work we have done does not suggest those [details] are relevant to the motivation for his actions.”

Police were called to Russell Square at 10:33pm local time following reports a man armed with a knife was attacking people.

The man was detained six minutes later with one of the officers firing a Taser electroshock gun.

Russell Square is a busy tourist area with a string of high end hotels and is also close to the British Museum and the University of London.

Xavery Richert, 22, a French tourist staying in youth hostel on the square, said: “I was buying a beer when I heard a woman shouting who was being chased by a man.

“I thought it was a bag snatching... she was not hurt. I came out for a cigarette, I went back, there were firefighters, police, and then I saw the body under a sheet. You could only see the feet sticking out.”

I was buying a beer when I heard a woman shouting who was being chased by a man
Witness Xavery Richert

Russell Square resident Constantine Somerville said: “It’s such a safe area and very quiet especially at night - why would somebody commit an attack in such a quiet area?”

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If a terror link is found, it would be the latest in a string of recent jihadist-inspired attacks in Europe.

Last month a driver ploughed a truck through a crowd leaving a fireworks display in the French resort town of Nice, killing 84, and two men slashed a priest’s throat in the country’s north. Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group.

In response to the recent attacks across Europe - which include two in Germany also claimed by the Syria-based jihadists - London’s police announced Wednesday that it would boost the number of armed officers on the capital’s streets. Police in Britain do not usually carry firearms.

The terror threat level in Britain has been set to “severe” - the second highest ranking - since August 2014, meaning an attack is “highly likely”.

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Police chiefs and security bosses have repeatedly warned that Islamic State fighters want to carry out attacks against Britain, a close ally of the United States.

London police said on Wednesday they would deploy an additional 600 armed officers across the capital to protect against the threat of attacks.

On Sunday, the head of London’s Metropolitan Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe, wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper that it was a question of “when, not if” an attack happened in the capital.

Londoners will wake up and in the morning they will notice an increased police presence on the streets, including armed officers
London police’s counter terror chief Mark Rowley

In the July 7, 2005 terror attacks in London, one of the suicide bombs which hit the city’s public transport system was detonated on the London Underground between Russell Square and King’s Cross.

While 7/7, which killed 52 people, was the last large-scale terrorist attack in Britain, there have been a string of smaller incidents since.

A paranoid schizophrenic man was sentenced to life behind bars Monday for trying to behead a commuter at a London Underground station in an Islamic State-inspired attack.

Soldier Lee Rigby was killed in south London in 2013 by two British Muslim converts in a terrorist murder.

“Londoners will wake up and in the morning they will notice an increased police presence on the streets, including armed officers,” Rowley said.

“This is there to provide reassurance and safety. We ask the public to remain calm, vigilant and alert,” he said.