4 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Westminster yesterday around 2.40pm, after the assailant drove a rented Hyundai i40 into pedestrians, before he fled into the parliament stabbing to death a police officer of the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Service. The attacker continued moving towards another officer wielding his knife, but he was shot by armed police and died. 

The victims are a Spanish woman, Aysha Frade, a US tourist named Kurt Cochran, a police officer named Keith Palmer and the attacker whose identity has now just been released: he is 52 year old Khalid Masood, born in Kent. 29 other people with serious injuries are being treated in hospital. The police believe the attacker “acted alone and inspired by international terrorism.” 

According to ISIS-affiliated news agency Amaq, the London attack was carried out by a “soldier of Islamic State.” This remains unsubstantiated. 

Theresa May clarified today that the attacker was a British citizen and known to MI5 “in relation to concerns of violent extremism. He was a peripheral figure. His case was historic. He was not part of the current intelligence picture.”

The police have made eight arrests in London, Birmingham and in other parts of the country. The West Midlands Police confirmed that houses were raided and arrests made in Birmingham, which is considered to be second only to London for the terror plots linked to the place. 

Politicians condemned Wednesday’s attack

Theresa May named the attack as “sick and depraved” and said it was “an assault on democracy.” Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, also send his prayers to the UK and said “We condemn these horrific acts of violence, and whether they were carried out by troubled individuals or by terrorists, the victims know no difference.” Trump had a telephone communication with Theresa May and the US is “continuing to monitor the situation.” Sean Spicer said that “We are in touch with officials in the British government ... We’re going to provide the assistance we can with the British government to try and get to the bottom of this.”

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said: “Even if the background to these attacks has yet to be cleared up, I would like to emphasise on behalf of Germany and its citizens: we stand resolutely on Britain’s side in the fight against any form of terrorism.”

The French president, François Hollande, expressed his sympathy and solidarity: “Terrorism affects us all. France, which has been so badly hit in recent times, knows what the British people are suffering today.”

The attack coincides with the anniversary of the Brussels’ terror attacks a year ago, where 32 people were killed and hundreds injured after explosions at Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station. Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel, who during Wednesday attended commemorations for the Brussels terror attacks last year, expressed support: “Our condolences are with those who mourn and all who are affected in London. Belgium stands with UK in fight against terror.”

Terrorist act

While the fact of ISIS claiming responsibility for yesterday’s incident is not yet verified, the terror attack exhibits certain characteristics, like the use of a vehicle as a weapon, that are used by jihadists.  In December and last July, in Berlin and Nice, people were killed by trucks driven into groups of people. Both of those strikes were inspired by ISIS. 

As Jason Burke commented in the Guardian, the main spokesman of the group, Mohammed al-Adnani, had issued a call in 2014 to all sympathisers to attack “unbelievers” in the West, particularly, police and military, no matter where they are. He said: “If you are not able to find a bomb or a bullet, then smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”

The UK intelligence services have stopped 12 terrorist attacks in the last three years, but failed to respond to the 13th one yesterday. Since the London bombings in 2005 intelligence agencies have been warning about terrorist attacks. 

Responding with reason

Polly Toynbee examined today the way media responded to the attack, all following the prescribed ideology and views of their specific “tribes.” She took side with the police’s statement which remained calm and logical: “We must recognise now that our Muslim communities will feel anxious at this time given the past behaviour of the extreme right wing and we will continue to work with all community leaders in the coming days.”

The Muslim Council of Britain said: “We condemn this attack and while it is still too early to speculate on the motives, our thoughts and prayers are for the victims and those affected. We pay tribute, too, to the police and emergency services who handled this with bravery. The Palace of Westminster is the centre of our democracy and we must all ensure that it continues to serve our country and its people with safety and security.”

Brendan Cox, the husband of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was killed by a local 52-year-old man, on 16 June 2016, spoke to the BBC Today programme on Thursday and invited caution and compassion: “giving notoriety to the person who did it … I would much rather remember the heroes … talking about them is how we do justice”. He also said that “The person who did this is no more representative of Muslims than the person who killed Jo is representative of people in Yorkshire.”

At moments like this, the only possible way to respond to random violent acts is with reason and compassion. Hatred and division is what the extremists want, and the world, unfortunately, displays plenty of it. The only response to extremists is to remain calm and not resort to their tactics.