Five people died after a single terrorist attacked Britain’s Houses of Parliament in central London today, stabbing a police officer to death as he tried to storm parliament and killing three pedestrians as he careered through the heart of the city in a 4×4 vehicle.
The attacker was among those killed. At least 40 other civilians were wounded in the first mass casualty terrorist attack on Britain in more than a decade.
The Houses of Commons and Lords, MPs and staff were locked down for several hours because of fears there could have been further attacks.
People fled for their lives as the terrorist drove a Hyundai 4×4 into people on Westminster Bridge, next to Big Ben and the parliamentary precinct, about 2.40pm London time.
Using a vehicle to attack civilians appears a direct copy of an Islamic State tactic used with murderous effect in Nice and Berlin.
The vehicle then careered off the street on to pavement a few metres from Big Ben and the attacker tried to storm parliament armed with a knife.
Moments later, a police officer guarding parliament was stabbed and killed. The attacker, dressed in black, was shot by another armed officer and died of his injuries.
The police are working on the belief that the attacker was inspired by Isis and most likely a “lone actor”. The attacker’s identity was already known to counter-terrorism officials.
People – everyday citizens, tourists, visiting schoolchildren – fled for their lives near one of the most famous sites in London, in the shadow of Big Ben.
Prime minister Theresa May was rushed out of parliament as the attack unfolded and later chaired an emergency meaning of the government’s crisis committee, Cobra.
Later, her voice cracking with emotion, the prime minister confirmed the “sick and depraved” attack had been carried out by a single assailant.
She praised the bravery of the police and other emergency services, who “ran towards the danger, even as they encouraged others to move the other way”.
The prime minister added that Britain’s threat level would remain at severe, where it has been for some time. But she struck a defiant tone, insisting it would be business as usual for MPs and Londoners tomorrow.
“The location of this attack was no accident. The terrorists chose to strike at the heart of our capital city where all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech.”
Mark Rowley, head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard, said: “This is a day that we had planned for – that we all hoped would never happen – but sadly it is now a reality.”
Police chiefs have ordered extra officers, armed and unarmed, on to the streets of the capital.
Eyewitnesses described how a scene of horror suddenly unfolded at one of the UK’s busiest tourist spots.
Rob Lyon, 34, was walking along Westminster Bridge with a colleague when he saw a 4×4 vehicle travelling at high speed, hitting pedestrians.
“I heard a wheel definitely hit a kerb, quite a loud crunch noise, I looked up and saw a car clearly hitting people as it came towards me.
“A colleague I was with, James, I heard him sort of shout. I instinctively jumped off the pavement.
“I could see people being hit. And then the car just carried on up the bridge and I just looked around and was really in shock.”
Radoslaw Sikorski, the former Polish foreign minister, saw at least five people lying on the ground after being “mown down” by a car.
“I heard what I thought what I thought was just a collision and then I looked through the window of the taxi and saw someone down, obviously in great distress,” he said.
Pictures emerged after the incident showing people lying injured on Westminster Bridge, some of them bleeding seriously. A woman was pulled alive from the Thames river with serious injuries after having fallen into the water during the attack.
The car then sped towards the Palace of Westminster (parliament buildings and offices), and came to a halt on the pavement against railings by New Palace Yard, the green space next to Big Ben, opposite an entrance to Westminster tube station.
A man with a knife was then seen running through the gates of the Palace of Westminster, across New Palace Yard and stabbing a police officer.
The attacker continued his rampage, targeting a second officer, according to witnesses. But he was shot by police as, knife in hand, he approached a second officer.
Eyewitness Rick Longley said he saw the car crashed into the railings and a man leaping out.
“We were just walking up to the station and there was a loud bang and a guy, someone, crashed a car and took some pedestrians out.
“They were just laying there and then the whole crowd just surged around the corner by the gates just opposite Big Ben. A guy came past my right shoulder with a big knife and just started plunging it into the policeman.”
In the aftermath of the attack, Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood helped treat the injured officer, unsuccessfully trying to resuscitate him. The Bournemouth MP, a former soldier, was pictured with blood on his forehead, helping the police officer in Parliament Square. His brother Jonathan was killed in the 2002 Bali terror attack.
Up to 1000 people were evacuated for hours at various locations including Westminster Abbey. Parliament was evacuated slowly with it taking several hours for people to be let out.
Hospitals in London were put on alert and of the 20 injured, eight were taken to the major trauma centre at King’s College hospital, with two people in critical condition and six stable. Those at Kings were six men and two women.
Two casualties were treated at St Thomas’s hospital, immediately opposite parliament, a man and a woman, both of whom are stable. The ambulance service said eight of those injured were treated at the scene.