A large area of south east London is under a security alert with an investigation into what is being described by the Home Secretary as a “barbaric and sickening attack” resulting in the death of a man in John Wilson Street, Woolwich, a busy junction of the South Circular.
A special emergency government security body, COBRA, has decided to increase security around Woolwich and other London barracks. The area is subject to a considerable number of police road blocks.
Theresa May said “There is a strong indication that this was an act of terrorism. Our hearts go out to the victim’s family.”
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, said: “It is hard to comprehend the shocking and horrific scenes we have seen this afternoon on a busy street as Londoners went about their day as normal. We have launched a murder investigation, being led by the Counter Terrorism Command. Two men have been arrested in connection with that murder.”
Sir Bernard said: “We understand concern about the motivation and we will work tirelessly to uncover why this occurred and who was responsible. I understand people want answers, but I must stress we are in the early stages of investigations. I would urge everyone to remain calm and have a measured response to today’s tragic events.”
“In Greenwich we have met with community representatives, and extra officers remain on duty there tonight. Across London our officers are in contact with their communities too. The shock that we all feel at what has happened must bind us together,” he added.
Later in the evening the police monitored a gathering of about 100 people believed to be supporters of the English Defence League in Woolwich centre.
The Met Police instigated authorisation of a Section 60 order under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which gives them additional search powers.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said in Paris: “We will never buckle in the face of terror.”
Eye witnesses are reported as saying the victim’s alleged attackers were shot by armed police officers in a further confrontation.
They have been taken to hospital for treatment. One is in a serious condition. They are both under armed guard in separate London hospitals.
The incident was described by Whitehall sources as a “suspected Islamist terror” attack because eye witnesses alleged the attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar.”
Social media contains a large volume of accounts of what happened. It would appear the victim was knocked down by a car, and then attacked with knives and machetes.
The first Met Police bulletin on the event was released about 3.09 pm.
Officers respond to reports of an assault on John Wilson St, Greenwich. Updates to follow
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) May 22, 2013
There were gruesome reports about the extent of the attack on the victim including an attempt to decapitate him. Flowers are being left at the entrance to the barracks in memory of the man who has died.
The Bishop of Woolwich, Rt. Rev. Michael Ipgrave, has called for “calm in a diverse and vibrant area that has experienced a shocking and traumatic day.”
The attack took place at about 2.20 pm this afternoon, a few hundred yards from Woolwich Royal Artillery barracks and the local Mulgrave Primary School.
David Dixon, the Head Teacher, said he locked down the school after hearing the shots: “I saw the body lying in the road. We locked the gates, we locked everything down to make sure the children were safe inside and we kept them safe.”
There are local reports that the victim may have been a soldier and that he was wearing a Help for Heroes T-shirt.
Media reports indicate that the two attackers waited for the police to arrive and were filmed and photographed by local people.
ITV news has released footage of a man holding a machete and knife, apparently bloodied, and attempting to justify what had happened.
The video is being widely published by national and international media.
The statement of one of the alleged attackers recorded at the scene.
The same man would appear to have been filmed by another passerby and further footage of him making comments have been published by the Sun newspaper.
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson tweeted that the attack was an unforgivable act of violence.
This afternoon's attack in Woolwich is a sickening deluded and unforgivable act of violence. My thoughts are with the victim and his family
— Boris Johnson (@MayorofLondon) May 22, 2013
The Mayor spoke to reporters just before going into the emergency COBRA meeting in Downing Street.
Commander Simon Letchford of the Metropolitan Police, speaking in Woolwich said: “I am here to give you an update about the incident that has unfolded here in Woolwich this afternoon and to give you further details of the situation and an outline of the facts as we understand them at this time. This is at a very early stage and as such I will provide you with what information I am able to.
At approx 1420 we were called to reports of an assault in John Wilson Street, Woolwich where one man was being assaulted by two other men. A number of weapons were reportedly being used in the attack, and this included reports of a firearm.
“Officers including local Greenwich officers arrived at the scene. Shortly afterwards firearms officers arrived at the scene. On their arrival at the scene they found a man, who was later pronounced dead. At this early stage I am unable to provide any further information about the man who has died.”
The Commander added: “Two men, who we believe from early reports to have been carrying weapons, were shot by police. They were taken to separate London hospitals; they are receiving treatment for their injuries.
“I can understand that this incident will cause community concerns, and I would like to reiterate that we are investigating what has taken place today. The MPS will investigate the circumstances that led a man to lose his life and the IPCC, as is routine, will investigate the circumstances in which police discharged their weapons,” he said.
Commander Letchford said: “There will continue to be an increased police presence in this area, and the surrounding areas this evening. That presence will continue as long as is needed. I am asking people to remain calm, and avoid unnecessary speculation. I will update you again as soon as I am in a position to do so.”
The Home Secretary Theresa May says “A man has been brutally murdered in south east London. This is a sickening and barbaric attack.”
She said she has been briefed by MI5, there has been an emergency meeting of COBRA lasting about an hour, and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, is returning from Paris.
The Muslim Council of Britain has condemned the attack: “This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly. Our thoughts are with the victim and his family. We understand the victim is a serving member of the Armed Forces. Muslims have long served in this country’s Armed Forces, proudly and with honour.”
“We call on all our communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, to come together in solidarity to ensure the forces of hatred do not prevail,” the statement added.
East London Lines is currently covering the incident because of its impact on Lewisham and Blackheath that border Woolwich.
Amateur smartphone material uploaded to YouTube showed the scene in Woolwich immediately after the killing at a busy junction on south east London’s South Circular.
The murder and its aftermath took place just as a number 53 bus was about to take the turn on its route to Deptford and New Cross.
The Daily Telegraph reports that one of the passengers, Mrs Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, 48, is the woman seen talking to one of alleged attackers who is holding a knife by his side and allegedly told her: “We want to start a war in London tonight.”
Anyone with any information or may have witnessed what took place in Woolwich earlier today is asked to contact the Anti-Terrorist Hotline 0800 789 321.
The Met Police are appealing “for anyone who has still or moving images of the incident at Woolwich to send them to: email@example.com – please include your name and contact details, which will be treated in strictest confidence.”
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) confirmed that it had launched an independent investigation into the shootings by police officers. Deputy Chair Deborah Glass said: “We were notified of an incident by the MPS at 2.50pm. This was declared an independent investigation and investigators were deployed immediately. A Commissioner has been appointed to lead the investigation and twelve IPCC investigators are currently at the scene, viewing CCTV footage and attending the post incident procedure.”
She added: “The Metropolitan Police Service is investigating the death of one man and the IPCC is investigating the shooting of two men by police officers. We would like to reassure the Woolwich community and wider public that our investigation will be both thorough and robust.”