London’s mayor appealed for vigilance and calm on Thursday after one woman was killed and five others injured by a man with suspected mental health issues who went on the rampage with a knife in central London, an attack police said could be linked to terrorism.
Armed police were called at 10:33 p.m. Wednesday after a man with a knife started to attack people in London’s Russell Square, an elegant park near the site of a 2005 suicide bombing.
“Early indications suggest that mental health is a significant factor in this case and that is one major line of inquiry,” London Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, Britain’s most senior anti-terrorism officer, told reporters.
“But of course at this stage we should keep an open mind regarding motive and consequently terrorism as a motivation remains but one line of inquiry for us to explore,” said Rowley.
Police, who arrived within five minutes of being called, used a Taser electric shock gun while arresting the 19-year-old suspect.
The investigation is being handled by the homicide command with support from the counter-terrorism officers, Rowley said.
The woman was treated at the scene but was pronounced dead a short time later. The other injured people – one woman and four men – are being treated, Rowley said.
Since August 2014, the terror threat level in Britain has been “severe” — the second highest level, meaning an attack is “highly likely.”
London police had already promised to deploy 600 extra armed officers after a spate of deadly attacks in France, Germany and Belgium.
Police chiefs and security bosses have repeatedly warned that ISIS wants to carry out attacks against Britain.
London counter-terrorism police chiefs have also previously warned that ISIS was seeking to radicalize vulnerable people with mental health issues to carry out attacks.
London’s Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital, called for vigilance.
“The safety of all Londoners is my number one priority and my heart goes out to the victims of the incident in Russell Square and their loved ones,” he said.
“I urge all Londoners to remain calm and vigilant. Please report anything suspicious to the police. We all have a vital role to play as eyes and ears for our police and security services and in helping to ensure London is protected.”
He said police were seeking “to establish the full facts including motives” for the attack.
London was hit by coordinated suicide bombings on July 7, 2005, when four extremists targeted three underground trains and one bus, killing 52 people.
Since then, dozens of plots have been foiled and there have been smaller-scale attacks, such as the killing of an off-duty soldier on a street in south London by two extremists in May 2013.