LONDON—A terrorist struck at the historic heart of the “Mother of Parliaments” on Wednesday armed with nothing but rudimentary or makeshift weapons. He was brought down by armed officers, but not before he had careened into more than a dozen civilians in an SUV and stabbed a policeman to death at the gates of the House of Commons.
A blood-soaked member of Parliament battled to save unarmed officer Keith Palmer, 48, staunching his wounds and performing CPR, but his efforts came to naught.
At least four people, including the attacker, were killed with 40 wounded in the most deadly terror attack in London since the 7/7 bombings in 2005. Some of those being treated in hospital have catastrophic injuries.
The attack began on Westminster Bridge, where two centuries ago William Wordsworth was inspired to write:
Earth has not anything to show more fairDull would he be of soul who could pass by
Among those lingering to enjoy the views across the River Thames on a bright spring afternoon was a group of French schoolchildren. Three of them were injured as the vehicle mounted the sidewalk and sped into the crowds on the bridge.
One woman plunged over the railings into the dark river below. She was rescued from the water and rushed to hospital. Another woman was killed instantly on the bridge. One victim was slain at the foot of Big Ben.
Joanne and Brad Buck, on vacation from Marlborough, Connecticut, were coming up the escalators at Westminster Underground station when the attack took place.
As they emerged up the steps into the daylight, they saw the vehicle crashed into the railings opposite the Tube entrance. They first knew tragedy had struck when they looked into the eyes of a middle-aged man who was standing with his hands clamped to the sides of his head.
“His face was etched in terror,” Joanne, 59, told The Daily Beast. “It was sheer horror. Something terrible had happened.”
Almost immediately, dozens of Metropolitan Police officers carrying machine guns raced into sight and Brad, 63, ushered his wife behind one of the huge sandstone pillars of Portcullis House.
The vacationers had no idea that a burly close-protection officer was doing virtually the same thing 50 yards away. He had one arm around Prime Minister Theresa May as he bundled her into a silver Jaguar that soon sped away from the scene.
Seconds earlier, gunshots had rung out on the Parliamentary estate, killing the attacker, who had ditched his vehicle and run straight through the open gates opposite Parliament Square.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing him run up to an officer and make a series of stabbing motions before racing toward the House of Commons building. That’s when he was shot two or three times by armed officers.
The building was packed on the busiest day of the week—just a few hours after a typically rowdy Prime Minister’s Questions. While police secured the area, some members of Parliament were told to shelter inside the chamber itself.
Amine Mouad, 35, a kitchen porter from Algeria who lives in Edmonton, North London, told The Daily Beast he was on the phone with a friend close to the Houses of Parliament when he heard two gunshots.
“I heard ‘bang bang,’ and I started to run.”
“Then I see a man—his head is down on the ground. I thought he was injured, but then I saw the blood. It was not normal blood. He was full of blood from his head,” Mouad said, motioning with his hand to signify a river of blood.
Despite the first attack on the House of Commons for a generation, the prime minister announced that parliamentary business would go ahead as normal.
“These streets of Westminster, home to the world’s oldest Parliament, are ingrained with a spirit of freedom that echoes in some of the furthest corners of the globe. And the values our Parliament represents—democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law—command the admiration and respect of free people everywhere,” May said.
“That is why it is a target for those who reject those values. But let me make it clear today, as I have had cause to do before: Any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure.”
Although the identity and motives of the attacker are as yet unknown, the incident bears a striking resemblance to attacks using vehicles as makeshift weapons of mass murder in Berlin last December, where 12 people died at Christmas shopping fair, and in Nice, France, last July, where 86 people died and more than 400 were injured. Both of those attacks were claimed by the so-called Islamic State as part of a campaign to inspire terror throughout Europe.
As ISIS has come under increasing pressure from the U.S.-led coalition and local forces in Syria and Iraq, its calls have increased for any sympathizers to take any action they can to strike back. In addition to the vehicle attacks, there have been knife and ax attacks in public places.
Some attacks have been directed remotely over encrypted messaging applications, most often Telegram; others, including the one in Nice, appear to have been inspired but not specifically directed. A lone assailant at Paris Orly airport last week tried to grab a patrolling soldier’s assault rifle and said he was determined to die for Allah, but he was an ex-convict high on alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana, which suggests the attack was virtually spur of the moment.
London’s Metropolitan Police said Wednesday’s attack is being treated as “a terrorist incident until we know otherwise.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday that the commander-in-chief had been briefed on the situation almost immediately after it happened.
“I was just getting an update on London,” Trump said. “Some big news having to do with London just happened.”
Donald Trump Jr. was also quick to try and capitalize on the attack. He mocked London’s Muslim mayor for his response to the attack.
Labour Member of Parliament Wes Streeting issued a furious response: “Use a terrorist attack on our city to attack London’s Mayor for your own political gain,” he wrote on Twitter. “You’re a disgrace.”