By Karla Adam,
LONDON — The family of the man suspected of ramming a van into Muslim worshipers offered public condolences Tuesday in statements that gave little hint of possible motives behind the latest terrorist strike in London.
The suspect — identified by British media as Darren Osborne, 47 — was heard by witnesses saying he wanted to kill Muslims. But few other details have emerged on what caused Osborne to drive 160 miles from Wales and point his van at crowds outside two London mosques Monday following late-night prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.
At least 11 people were injured before Osborne was wrestled to the ground and arrested. One man died, but it remained unclear whether he was killed in the attack or had collapsed moments before in the Finsbury Park district.
Osborne’s mother, Christine Osborne, 72, told the Sun’s newspaper that her son had mental health problems — which she did not detail — but that he had never expressed any political concerns.
“My son is no terrorist. He’s just a man with mental issues, and I don’t know how to cope with all this,” she was quoted as saying. “As a mum, my heart goes out to everyone in Finsbury Park.”
“We are massively shocked. It’s unbelievable. It still hasn’t really sunk in,” said Osborne’s nephew, Ellis Osborne, in a statement on behalf of the family.
“We are devastated for the families. Our hearts go out to the people who have been injured. It’s madness. It is obviously sheer madness,” he said.
But other neighbors, who did not want to be named, told British newspapers that Osborne was known for heavy drinking and a temper.
Osborne, who was not any security watch lists, is believed to have rented a white van near his home in Cardiff. Late Monday in London, hundreds joined a peace vigil, some carrying placards that read “United Against All Terror.”
The attack may have taken authorities by surprise, but it appeared to substantiate growing dread in London’s Muslim community.
Fears have been rising among Muslims here that they could be targeted by extremists in tit-for-tat attacks because of other attacks carried out in the name of Islam, even though they are widely denounced by the mainstream Muslim community.
“There is something rather depressingly inevitable about this,” said Fiyaz Mughal, founder of Tell Mama, a group that tracks anti-Muslim incidents. “Mosques are a visible target, even more so during Ramadan when more Muslims are visible because they wear religious clothing.”
He said hate crimes against Muslims almost always spike after Islamist-inspired attacks. The week before a suicide bombing in Manchester last month that killed 23 people, Mughal said, his group received 25 reports of hate crimes. The week after, the number shot up to 141.
“The cases are coming in thick and fast,” he said.
Writing in Tuesday’s Guardian newspaper, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd challenged criticism that Monday’s terrorist attack was not given the same kind of attention as Britain’s three other recent attacks.
“I have been saddened to see suggestions that this cowardly crime is not being dealt with in the same way as the Westminster Bridge, Manchester or London Bridge attacks. Let there be no doubt this attack is every bit as horrifying as the others we have seen. Our grief is no less raw,” she wrote.
“The threat from the far right is as corrosive as the twisted Islamist ideologies so many Muslims have spoken out against,” she said.
This was the third attack in London this year involving vehicles, and it came a month after the Manchester bombing.
“We don’t feel safe anywhere,” said a young man who gave his name as Adil Rana. “We don’t feel safe walking the streets or going to the mosque.”
Finsbury Park was for years considered to be a hotbed of Islamist extremism. A relatively deprived immigrant neighborhood in north London, it is the home of the Finsbury Park Mosque — once notorious for housing the radical Egyptian cleric known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was later extradited to the United States and found guilty of terrorism charges.
But like many of its surrounding neighborhoods, the area has rapidly gentrified in recent years, arguably becoming more diverse and tolerant at the same time. Kebab shops sit comfortably next to cafes serving flat white espressos. Finsbury Park Mosque has undergone its own dramatic reforms, too, with its extremist edges stripped away.
For the past decade, the mosque has sought to emphasize, according to its website, the “true teachings of Islam as a religion of tolerance, cooperation and peaceful harmony among all people who lead a life of balance, justice and mutual respect.”
In 2014, the mosque won a prestigious award for its service to the community. But its past links to extremism have made it — and its neighborhood — a target for criticism from Britain’s far right.
Even before this attack, Muslims said they had seen a sharp rise in hate crimes, here and elsewhere in Britain.
“Over the past weeks and months, Muslims have endured many incidents of Islamophobia, and this is the most violent manifestation to date,” Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said in a statement.
Rana, who witnessed the incident, said the attacker taunted onlookers as he was arrested.
“He said, ‘I’d do it again,’ ” Rana said. “It was a premeditated attack. He picked this area well, and he knows Finsbury Park is predominantly a Muslim area.”
Fearing copycat attacks, many Muslims urged extra security for mosques and other sites. East London Mosque, one of the city’s largest, said it was evacuated Monday after receiving a fake bomb threat.
On Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May met with members of the Muslim community even as they denounced a rising climate of anti-Islamic sentiment. Her response contrasted with her handling of a deadly fire in London last week, when she was widely criticized for not meeting survivors on the first day of the disaster.
May described Monday’s attack as “every bit as sickening” as those that have come before. She also hailed the “bravery” of those who detained the driver at the scene.
“Hatred and evil of this kind will never succeed,” she said.
Sadiq Khan, London’s first Muslim mayor, called the incident a “horrific terrorist attack” that was “clearly a deliberate attack on innocent Londoners, many of whom were finishing prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.”
“While this appears to be an attack on a particular community, like the terrible attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge, it is also an assault on all our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect,” he said in a statement.