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Britain

Police: car crash in London is road accident, not terror attack

Britons in general, and Londoners in particular, have been jumpy after a string of extremist attacks this year

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 October, 2017, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 October, 2017, 10:09pm

A car crash that injured 11 people outside a major London tourist attraction Saturday sparked fears of a terrorist attack but turned out to be simply a road accident, London police said.

The crash at 2.20pm outside the popular Natural History Museum in the heart of central London provoked a gigantic police response, including helicopters and hazardous area response teams, because of terrorist concerns.

Police said 11 people were injured when a car apparently mounted the pavement and hit pedestrians. Nine people were sent to hospital with head and leg injuries that were not regarded as life-changing.

Panicky scenes ensued after the pedestrians were struck and it took nearly four hours for police to reassure the anxious public that it was not another terrorist attack.

Londoners have been jumpy after a string of extremist attacks this year, including some using vehicles to hit pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and London Bridge. Britain has been on a “severe” terrorist threat level indicating that the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre believes an attack is viewed as highly likely.

Police said one man at the scene, thought to be the driver, was detained. He was not charged or identified and was released.

Witnesses described a rush to leave the scene, nearby shops were evacuated and the sprawling museum, a favourite site for families with children, closed down early. Police established a large security cordon around the area within minutes.

Workers in a cafe near the Natural History Museum say they fled the scene in fear.

Marilin Mueller, 20, said she thought at first it was a traffic accident but had doubts when “loads of police cars” arrived.

“All of these police came marching down saying, ‘Move, move.’ They said, ‘you need to evacuate,’” she said.

Dieon Rurora said people were running down the street to get away and some fell.

“It was quite scary,” he said.

One woman draped in a red blanket was led away by a paramedic after the crash. Others were seen leaving with their legs bandaged.

The crash took place on a day when the central London museum district was teeming with pedestrians. Photographs showed a dented silver car and a man being pinned to the ground outside the museum. A police forensics officer in blue boiler suit took pictures of the crash site.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted that he was in close contact with Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley, who plays a lead role in the police’s counterterrorism operation.

The Natural History Museum closed after the crash but its neighbour, the famed Victoria and Albert Museum, remained open.

British Prime Minister Theresa May thanked the first responders and the public for their help and said her thoughts were with the injured.