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Terror attack on UK parliament leaves 5 dead and 40 injured

Britain’s Houses of Parliament came under attack on Wednesday from a knife-wielding assailant who ploughed a vehicle through throngs of people on Westminster Bridge before fatally stabbing a police officer.

In the largest-scale terrorist incident in London since suicide bombers killed 52 people in July 2005, at least five people died, including the attacker. A further 40 were injured, according to police.

The attack paralysed the heart of British government as members of parliament and officials were held in lockdown for hours in the House of Commons, while Theresa May, the prime minister, was whisked away to safety by car.

It was the latest in a series of terror assaults in Europe and came exactly one year after suicide bombers attacked Brussels, targeting the airport and a metro station in the city centre. It bore similarities to the attack in Nice last year when a man drove a truck through a crowd of pedestrians, killing 84 people.

Late on Wednesday night, Mark Rowley, acting deputy Metropolitan Police commissioner, confirmed that the force’s working assumption was that the attack had been “inspired by international terrorism” and was “Islamist related”.

Mr Rowley said the police “think we know” the identity of the attacker, but declined to give further details while the search for any associates continued.

The acting deputy commissioner named the police officer killed in the attack as Keith Palmer, 48, an unarmed member of the parliamentary protection team who had 15 years service with the Met and was a husband and father.

After chairing a meeting of Cobra, the government’s high-level emergency committee, Mrs May emerged from Number 10 in the late evening to condemn the “sick and depraved terrorist attack” on the “heart of our capital city”.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to all who have been affected, to the victims themselves and to their families and friends, who waved their loved ones off but will not now be welcoming them home,” Mrs May said.

She praised the police response to the attack, saying the force’s “exceptional men and women ran towards danger, even as they encouraged others to move away”.

The prime minister said the nation’s threat level would remain at “severe” and warned terrorists that efforts to undermine Britain’s values were “doomed to failure”.

“We will all move forward together, never giving in to terror and never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart,” she said.

Earlier, President Donald Trump condemned the attack and called Mrs May to express US support, his spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters in Washington.

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, said the country stood “resolutely on Britain’s side in the fight against any form of terrorism”. Bernard Cazeneuve, the French prime minister, expressed “solidarity” with the UK.

The attack began in mid-afternoon when a 4×4 vehicle driven by the assailant careered northwards across Westminster Bridge towards Big Ben, knocking down pedestrians. The area is normally packed with tourists.

The vehicle crashed into railings surrounding New Palace Yard, a main entrance to the Palace of Westminster, before the driver ran round to force his way through the gates.

The man, said to be middle-aged, attacked a police officer using two 7in knives, before being shot by another police officer.

MPs in the Commons chamber were told to remain where they were after the attack.

Other MPs and staff were initially told to get down — and away from windows — before being asked to return to Portcullis House. Other government buildings around Whitehall were also locked down.

Mrs May was voting in the division lobby of the Commons when plain-clothed officers appeared and asked her to leave.

Tobias Ellwood, a Foreign Office minister, administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the wounded police officer as he lay on the ground of New Palace Yard at parliament. Mr Ellwood, a former army officer, lost his brother in the 2002 Bali bombing.

Mr Cazeneuve has tweeted that some French students were injured in the attacks without providing further details.

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood (centre) helps emergency services attend to a police officer outside the Palace of Westminster © PA

Mike Pullen, a lawyer at Carter Ruck, was in a taxi at the junction of Parliament Square and the approach to Westminister Bridge at the time of the incident. He said there was a loud bang behind the car and he saw two bodies on the ground. He assumed it was a traffic accident and saw a grey, 4×4 vehicle on the pavement. The body of a man with a red backpack was on the ground close to the vehicle.

Mr Pullen said he saw a bald man with a heavy beard by the driver’s door of the car. The man went to the main gates of parliament brandishing two identical double-bladed knives.

Mr Pullen said three uniformed police were at the gate. When they saw the man had weapons they ran for help. Two went towards parliament and the third in the other direction.

Mr Pullen said the third officer was attacked. The assailant had the officer bent over and stabbed him multiple times in the back. He then moved on and at that point three shots were fired and the assailant fell.

As 20 police cars, six ambulances and five fire engines converged on Westminster, heavily armed police officers — some with blast shields — protected MPs in the Commons chamber. Staff watched out of windows as emergency workers administered first aid to the dying policeman and his assailant.

Police later swept through the parliamentary estate, searching every room. In the late afternoon hundreds of MPs, journalists and workers were held in Westminster Hall to await witness statements.

Many MPs have recently had their security upgraded but some still feel unsafe: “You saw the ring of steel at parliament today,” one MP said. “When we leave this building we don’t have any protection.”

The government recently revealed that UK security services had foiled 13 potential attacks in less than four years. Counter-terrorism units in Britain are running more than 500 investigations at any one time.

Tawhid Tanim, a sales consultant in the area, was standing outside Westminster Station, when the attack unfolded.

“All of a sudden I just hear three shots — bang, bang, bang! It was, I don’t know — five, 10 feet away. And then people started running.” Mr Tanim said he saw a grey car “smashed into parliament” and what looked like a person trapped underneath.

“I could see something under the car — I’m not sure if it’s a man or a woman,” he said.

In a statement the police urged people to avoid Parliament Square, Whitehall, Westminster and Lambeth bridges, parts of Victoria Street and Victoria Embankment. The police asked the public to pass on any photos or film of the incident to http://www.ukpoliceimageappeal.co.uk.

Paramedics treat an injured person on Westminster Bridge on Wednesday © Reuters

Via FT