'Hero' imam praises group that saved Finsbury Park suspect from angry crowd

Harriet Sherwood, Damien Gayle and Alice Ross

In the chaos and terror of the moment, events might have taken an even darker turn.

Outside the Muslim Welfare Centre, three men wrestled to the ground the driver of a van which had ploughed into people leaving the mosque.

Amid confusion, distress and anger, a crowd gathered. Fists and feet struck out. Suddenly a voice shouted: “No one touch him – no one! No one!”

It came from Mohammed Mahmoud, the mosque’s imam, later hailed as the hero of the day. He urged the crowd to be calm and restrained until the police arrived.

Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon, Mahmoud said he had not been the only one urging restraint. “It wasn’t me alone, there were a group of brothers. They were calm and collected and managed to calm people down and to extinguish any flames of anger or mob rule that would have taken charge had this group of mature brothers not stepped in.”

He said he had just finished leading prayers in the mosque when “a brother came in, quite panicked, and said that somebody had run over a group of people and tried to kill them”.

He added: “We arrived at the scene within minutes and we found the assailant on the floor. He had been restrained by around three people.

“We found a group of people quickly started to collect around the assailant. And some tried to hit him, either kicks or punches. By God’s grace we manage to surround him and to protect him from any harm. We stopped all forms of attack and abuse towards him that were coming from every angle.

“A police van drove past so we flagged them down and we told them the situation. There’s a man, he’s restrained. He mowed down a group of people and there’s a mob attempting to hurt him. If you don’t take him, God forbid he might be seriously hurt.”

He added: “There was a mob attempt to hurt him, so we pushed people away from him until he was safely taken by police.”

The man was unscathed, he said.

He added: “This community of ours is a calm community, not known for their violence. Our mosques are incredibly peaceful. I can assure you we will do our utmost to calm down ill intentions.”

In a statement Toufik Kacimi, the mosque and welfare centre’s chief executive, praised Mahmoud’s bravery and courage, which he said “helped calm the immediate situation after the incident and prevented further injuries and potential loss of life”. He later said he was “the hero of the day”.

Mahmoud had told him that others had helped to calm people down. “The crowd was extremely angry, unhappy, so some people started acting violently too,” said Kacimi.

One of the men who held the suspect on the ground, 29-year-old cafe owner Mohammed, said: “The imam came from the mosque and he said, ‘Listen, we are fasting, this is Ramadan, we are not supposed to do these kinds of things, so please step back.’

“For that reason this guy is still alive today. This is the only reason. If the imam was not there, he wouldn’t be there today.”

Adil Rana, 24, who was outside the mosque when the van drove towards the crowd, said some people had initially attacked the suspect.

“The driver jumped out and then he was pinned down to the floor and people were punching him and beating him, which was reasonable because of what he’s done. And then the imam of the mosque actually came out and said, ‘Don’t hit him, hand him over to the police, pin him down.’”

Hussain Ali, 28, said: “The leader of the mosque said, ‘you do not touch him’.”

The three men, who were sitting outside a cafe at the time of the incident, described their effort to subdue the suspected attacker and his reaction. “There was no regret, no emotion, he was just there smiling and blowing kisses. He said, ‘I’ve done what I’m supposed to do,’” said Mohammed.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, praised Mahmoud’s actions.

“When things were getting very heated, and we can understand why, Imam Mohammed did a really good job in calming things down and making sure that justice can be done as it should be done via due process, rather than anyone taking the law into their own hands,” he told Sky News.

“This is a good community. They pull together, they work closely with each other and the actions of Imam Mohammed are what I would expect from a good faith leader and a good Muslim leader.”

Mahmoud condemned the “tragic and barbaric terrorist attack”, adding: “All life is sacred.”

He hoped those who try to demonise the Muslim community and to divide the country would not win.

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