Amid the chaos and agitation surging through a crowd early Monday after a van plowed into pedestrians outside London's Finsbury Park Mosque, one person stepped in to protect the attacker, witnesses say: the mosque's imam.
Imam Mohammed Mahmoud was being called a hero after he tried to keep bystanders at bay in the tense minutes after the incident.
The van slammed into worshipers leaving the mosque after midnight Ramadan prayers, injuring nine people. British Prime Minister Theresa May said police were investigating the incident as a terrorist attack.
Some pedestrians pushed the 47-year-old suspect to the ground, and Mahmoud, an imam from the Muslim Welfare House, jumped in and pleaded for calm.
At a press conference later Monday, Mahmoud credited "other brothers" for assisting in protecting the man from angry onlookers until police arrived. “By God’s grace, we were able to protect him from harm,” he said. “So we pushed people away from him until he was safely taken by police into custody and put into the back of the van. And that’s all that we did. It wasn’t me alone, there were a group of brothers."
oufik Kacimi, the mosque's chief executive, said the imam “helped calm the immediate situation after the incident and prevented further injuries and potential loss of life,” according to The Guardian.
Witness Hussain Ali, 28, told the Press Association that "the leader of the mosque said 'You do not touch him.'
"He was sitting and holding him like that, people kept holding him," Ali said.
Mamhoud was joined by several other bystanders who formed a protective ring around the suspect until police hustled him into the back of a van, the Evening Standard reported.
“Mohammed was the hero of the day, he was the one who contained the guy and held him up until the police came and took him away," Kacimi told the Standard.
Monday morning, the Muslim Welfare House headlined its website with this message: "All of us at Muslim Welfare House sends our thoughts and prayers to the victims and those injured in the major incident at Finsbury Park. The Muslim Community in this area is horrified at this incident and is concerned and shocked at the events."
Mayor Sadiq Khan, London’s first Muslim mayor, implored the city's residents to show solidarity.
“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,” Khan said.
Khan, who vowed "zero tolerance” for hate crimes, said “we will not allow these terrorists to succeed … we will stay a strong city.”