- - Wednesday, March 22, 2017

LONDON — A lone attacker mowed down pedestrians and then stabbed a policeman in the shadow of the British Parliament Wednesday, in what police described as a terrorist strike that left the attacker and at least four others dead and some 40 people injured on nearby Westminster Bridge.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told reporters that police officer Keith Palmer, 49, three civilians and the attacker had died in the brief but intense incident, which again dramatized the threat terrorism poses to the great cities of Europe.

Although the assailant has not been officially identified, Commissioner Rowley said investigators think they know who the man is but would not reveal details. He said “international terrorism” is suspected as the inspiration in the attack, which happened a year to the day after a deadly attack targeted the subway and airport in Brussels.

No claim of responsibility was issued from the Islamic State or other radical groups in the first hours after the strike, although the use of a vehicle in a crowded pedestrian area clearly mimicked Islamist-inspired attacks.

Extra armed police will be on the streets in the coming days to reassure the public, and hundreds of police officers are working on the case, officials said.

“We’re satisfied at this stage that it looks like there was only one attacker, but it would be foolish to be overconfident so early on,” Commissioner Rowley said.

“So, for precautionary basis, we’re locking down the area and doing all the necessary searches so we can be completely confident that everyone is safe.”

Witnesses and police described a chaotic scene in which a single male attacker breached the modern-day fortress of Westminster Palace after hitting pedestrians in a year-old gray Hyundai Tucson speeding across Westminster Bridge toward the Houses of Parliament. He crashed into the palace’s railings and stabbed a police officer before he was fatally shot by other officers, police said. The car was registered in the affluent Essex city of Chelmsford and is thought to have been a rental vehicle.

“There was a loud bang. Screams. Commotion. The sounds of gunshots. Armed police everywhere,” tweeted Tom Peck, the political editor of the Independent newspaper who was nearby.

Witnesses described the attacker as an “Asian man” believed to be in his 40s. A photo of the suspected assailant on an ambulance gurney showed a large shirtless dark-skinned man with a full beard being treated by medical staff.

Sirens and police swarmed the area around Parliament in Westminster and Westminster Bridge in the aftermath of the attack. Security cordoned off the area as parliamentarians and Prime Minister Theresa May were evacuated.

Later, a resolute Mrs. May addressed the nation. Speaking outside No. 10 Downing St. after chairing a meeting of government’s emergency committee, COBRA, she vowed that attempts to defeat British values of democracy and freedom through terrorism would fail.

“Tomorrow morning, Parliament will meet as normal,” she said. Londoners and visitors “will all move forward together, never giving in to terror and never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said additional police officers would be on the city streets to keep Londoners and visitors safe, the Reuters news agency reported

“We stand together in the face of those who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life. We always have, and we always will. Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism,” he said.

But an event with Queen Elizabeth to officially open the new headquarters of London’s police force, which had been planned for Thursday, was postponed “in light of today’s events,” Buckingham Palace said.

Trump briefed

President Trump, who was briefed by his security aides throughout the day, was among world leaders offering condolences. In Paris, the lights of the Eiffel Tower were to be dimmed in solidarity with London.

Mr. Trump spoke by phone with Mrs. May and pledged the administration’s full support to bring those responsible to justice, the White House said.

Spokesman Sean Spicer said the victims and city of London were “in our thoughts and prayers.”

“We obviously condemn the attack in Westminster,” he said.

There were numerous witnesses to the attack, with Parliament in session and city residents and tourists packing the popular site.

“This man had something in his hand. … It looked like a stick of some sort, and he was challenged by a couple of policemen in yellow jackets, and one of the yellow-jacketed policemen fell down,” Quentin Letts, a journalist at the British tabloid The Daily Mail, told the BBC.

“We could see the man in black moving his arm in a way that suggested he was either stabbing or striking the yellow-jacketed policeman. … And as this attacker was running toward the entrance used by MPs to get into the House of Commons … he ran, about 15 yards perhaps, and two plainclothes guys with guns shouted at him what sounded like a warning. He ignored it, and they shot two or three times and he fell.”

At the bridge, witnesses said the weaving car just mowed into pedestrians and cyclists. French officials said three French students were injured in the crash, and South Korea said five of its nationals were among the wounded. The timing and method of the attack quickly raised suspicions of a tie to Islamist terrorist groups that have engineered similar attacks in cities across Western Europe, including Paris, Brussels, Berlin and Nice.

The attack unfolded near some of the city’s most famous tourist sites, including the London Eye, a large Ferris wheel with pods that overlook the capital. The Eye was halted after the attack, stranding visitors in the pods with an aerial view of the scene.

The attack occurred on the first anniversary of the terrorist attack on Brussels airport and metro station, killing 32.

In London, it hit the seat of power and a major tourist district and was the deadliest attack since the 2005 bombing of the public transit system that killed 52.

Laura Philip, 28, an officer for a German bank who works in central London, said many Londoners were anticipating such attacks these days, especially after those in France, Belgium and Germany over the past two years.

“I’m not that surprised. What we hear from security specialists is that everyone is expecting something like this to happen at some point — especially after Germany — but obviously it’s a shock,” she said, referring to a terrorist attack in Berlin in December that killed 12 at a Christmas market. “Still, it’s shocking.”

Westminster “is basically where our country is governed from, but it’s also a really touristy area with Big Ben and the London Eye,” she said. “It’s an area that’s important to the whole country and not just London.”

Some worried about their loved ones.

“I’ve just texted my daughter to make sure she’s OK. She’ll be nowhere near there, but of course you want to check,” said Stewart Curtis, 56, an IT director.

“Yes, I’m surprised on one level because we seem to have been doing so well at controlling [terrorism] in the U.K, but on another level, no, I’m not surprised because the world is a dangerous place and we’re clearly a target,” he said.

S.A. Miller and Dan Boylan contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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