Londoners are beginning to take back control of their city, showing classic British defiance even as questions mount over how the latest terrorist attack could have occurred.
Thousands of people gathered at Trafalgar Square Thursday night to light candles, hold flowers and show solidarity one day after a 52-year-old man killed four people and injured nearly 30 in a terrorist attack just steps away from Parliament.
“I’m from London, born and bred here, and I’m out here today to show some solidarity and defiance,” said 28-year old Patrick Johnson who held a cardboard sign saying “London will never be beaten.” “This is not going to beat us. We are going to move on from this.”
That message rang out all day across the city as police revealed more details about the attacker and the number of deaths climbed. Police said Khalid Masood carried out the assault, plowing his SUV into a crowd of people on the sidewalk along Westminster Bridge and then trying to enter the gates to Parliament where he stabbed a police officer before being gunned down. The police officer died along with three others including an American who was in London with his wife to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and a 43-year-old mother from London who was on her way to pick up her two children from school.
Late Thursday, police said a 75-year old man had died from his injuries.
Among the injured were people from France, Romania, South Korea, Germany, Poland, Ireland, China, Italy, the United States and Greece. At least seven remained in critical condition.
Police said Mr. Masood had a criminal record dating back to 1983, including a conviction in 2003 for carrying a knife. However, he had not been convicted of any terrorism charge and he was not the subject of any prior intelligence “about his intent to mount a terrorist attack.”
The Islamic State claimed Mr. Masood was one of its soldiers, but police insisted he acted alone. His age, 52, is also a factor as other terrorist attacks in Britain have involved younger men and most programs aimed at preventing radicalization focus on teenagers and people in their 20s.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Theresa May had said the attacker was known to police and the MI5 security service. However, she added that he was investigated years ago in relation to concerns about violent extremism and he was a peripheral figure. “The case is historic – he was not part of the current intelligence picture,” she told Parliament. That will still raise questions about what the police knew about Mr. Masood and who he associated with. Police made eight arrests across London and Birmingham on Thursday as part of their investigation.
Ms. May set the defiant tone just after Parliament opened in the morning, telling MPs that “we meet as normal – as generations have done before us, and as future generations will continue to do – to deliver a simple message: We are not afraid. And our resolve will never waiver in the face of terrorism.”
Her words drew support from leaders around the world, who rushed to show solidarity with Britain. In much of the European Union in particular, expressions of support were strong in an effort to slow the tide of populists who have been calling for an end to immigration, which they link with terrorism. That has been the message of France’s Marine Le Pen of the National Front, who saw the attack as another reason for tighter border controls. Ms. Le Pen is in a close race for the French presidency and she has advocated stopping all immigration, saying it is linked to terrorism. She also wants to pull France out of the European Union, although her main rival, Emmanuel Macron, backs the EU.
Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo also drew the link, telling reporters before a meeting with Ms. May in London: “I often hear in Europe, in the EU: ‘Let’s not link the migration policy with terrorism,’ but it’s impossible not to link them.” However, Mr. Masood was born in Britain.
And even as Ms. May spoke about the importance of democracy and freedom, Westminster Palace, which houses Parliament, was surrounded by police and closed off for most of the day. Officials promised a review of security measures around Parliament, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Londoners will have to get used to seeing more police officers on patrol and more barricades restricting vehicle access.
But Mr. Khan too tried to remain steadfast Thursday, saying after the vigil in Trafalgar Square that the city had come together and demonstrated its diversity and strength. “You look at those who have been injured, the victims they are from all corners of the world. Eleven different nationalities represented,” he told reporters. Londoners, he added, “are showing that, actually, terrorists aren’t going to succeed by dividing us or destroying our shared way of life.”
That was the message Ange Campana came to hear as he stood in the crowd with his wife and two small children. They all had Union Jacks painted on their cheeks and Mr. Campana carried a sign quoting Walt Whitman: “Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.”
“We need to be really standing up against this intolerance,” Mr. Campana said. “The world meets here. Everyone in this city comes from everywhere in the world. We need to say to [the terrorists] they are getting it wrong, completely wrong.”
Not far from him, Khalil Yousuf was moving through the crowd with a group of young men wearing T-shirts that said; “I am Muslim. Ask Me Anything.”
“You are always going to get individuals who have a warped view of life and turn to criminality,” he said. “That’s not going to stop us from preaching what we feel is the true message of Islam but we need to do that together.”
But the solidarity wasn’t uniform. Shortly after the attack, three young men showed up near Parliament and began haranguing passersby with anti-Islamic rants. When people challenged the men or smirked, they shouted back “this is what Islam does.”
As the vigil concluded and darkness fell, Graham Fawcett stood quietly with his dog. He felt compelled to come to the square to offer support, having been in Paris during the attack on the Bataclan nightclub in 2015 that killed 90 people.
“It’s just a sad waste of his own life,” Mr. Fawcett said of the London attacker. “He thinks he may go to some sort of paradise but well I’m afraid I don’t think he will.”
Then he headed off for a beer with a friend, adding with a shrug and a smile: “Life goes on.”Report Typo/Error