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4 dead, 20 injured in terror attack near UK Parliament in London; PM May calls emergency meeting

London was put on high alert after an attacker drove his car into a pedestrians on Westminster bridge and later stabbed a cop, killing three people in total.

world Updated: Mar 23, 2017 01:36 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
London attack,London terror,UK terror attack
Emergency services at the scene outside the Palace of Westminster, London, on March 22, 2017. (AP Photo)

Four people were killed and at least 20 injured on Wednesday after a man drove his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before attacking a policeman close to the British Parliament in what police termed as a terror attack.

Occurring on the anniversary of the suicide bombings in the Brussels airport and subway, the attack forced a parliament lockdown while Prime Minister Theresa May was whisked away to safety. (HIGHLIGHTS)

Those killed included the assailant and the policeman he stabbed, and two of the victims among the pedestrians hit by the car as it tore along Westminster Bridge before crashing into railings just outside parliament.

“We’ve declared this as a terrorist incident and the counter-terrorism command are carrying out a full-scale investigation into the events today,” Mark Rowley, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, told reporters.

“The attack started when a car was driven over Westminster Bridge, hitting and injuring a number of members of the public, also including three police officers. A car then crashed near to parliament and at least one man, armed with a knife continued the attack and tried to enter parliament.”

At present, police believed there was just one attacker, Rowley added.

How the events unfolded outside the British parliament in London on Wednesday. ( AFP )

Scotland Yard triggered its swift counter-terror response with armed policeman cordoning off the area.

MPs, guests and school children visiting the Palace of Westminster were confined in the central lobby afterthe attack.

The high-footfall in the area, which is in the vicinity of the bustling Big Ben and Parliament, was taken over by armed police after the grey SUV mowed through people on the Bridge. All approach roads to Westminster and tube stations in the vicinity were shut.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who was in the Parliament complex after addressing Prime Minister’s Question Time around noon, was seen being ushered to a car by police officers and taken to her residence at Downing Street.

Prime Minister Theresa May was being kept updated and was due to chair a meeting of the government’s crisis response committee.

“The thoughts of the PM and the government are with those killed and injured in this appalling incident, and with their families,” her office said in a statement.

The incidents occurred against the backdrop of heightened security measures in London, with Britain being on the second highest terror threat level of “severe”, which means a terror attack is highly likely. The popular London Eye stopped moving, with visitors held within its capsules.

Police officers gather around a car adjacent to Houses of Parliament in London, on March 22, 2017, after it mowed down several pedestrians on Westminster Bridge. The House of Commons sitting was suspended as witnesses reported sounds like gunfire outside. ( AP Photo )

David Lidlington, leader of the House of Commons, said: “At the moment the very clear advice from the police and director of security in the House is we should remain under suspension and the chamber remain in lockdown until we receive advice that it is safe.”

In Edinburgh, the Scottish Parliament also suspended its sitting.

An emergency services helicopter landed in Parliament Square, overlooked by statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill, as eyewitnesses gave accounts of the two incidents.

Witness Don Brind, a researcher for MPs, said: “I heard some shouting and saw some running out of the corner of my eye and then a short time after that there was a shot. I looked and I saw a civilian on the ground, with somebody standing over him with what I assumed to be a gun.”

“Then I looked and about 10 yards away, there was a yellow jacketed person on the ground, who appeared to be alive and talking.”

A woman was pulled alive, but with serious injuries, from the Thames rives, the Port of London Authority said. The circumstances of her fall into the river were unknown.

Three French schoolchildren aged 15 or 16 were among those injured in the attack, French officials said.

Metropolitan Police asked people to avoid Parliament Square, Whitehall, which is home to key ministries and the Cabinet Office, Westminster Bridge, and Victoria Street up to the junction with Broadway to allow emergency services to deal with the incident.

“Police were called at approximately 14:40 hours to reports of an incident in Westminster Bridge, SW1,” police said in a statement. “Officers - including firearms officers - remain on the scene and we are treating this as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise.”

Police also appealed to the public to share images or footage of the incidents.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Mar 22, 2017 21:06 IST