Parliament attack: police officer among five dead in 'sick and depraved' incident
Five people died after a single terrorist attacked Westminster, stabbing a police officer to death as he tried to storm parliament, and killing three members of the public as he careered through the heart of the capital in a 4x4 vehicle.
The attacker was among those killed and at least 40 other civilians were wounded, in the first mass casualty terrorist attack on Britain in over a decade, with the Commons and Lords locked down for several hours because of fears there could have been further attacks.
The policeman who died was named as Keith Palmer, 48, a member of the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Service.
He was married with children and had been a police officer for 15 years.
The Met’s head of counter-terrorism Mark Rowley said the motivation of the attacker was assumed to be “Islamist related” and he had tried to enter parliament but had been stopped.
People fled for their lives as a Hyundai 4x4 driven by the terrorist at about 2.40pm as it indiscriminately ran into people on Westminster Bridge.
The use of the vehicle to attack civilians a direct copy of an Islamic State tactic used previously with murderous effect in Nice and Berlin.
The vehicle then careered off the street on to pavement a few metres away from Big Ben and the attacker tried to storm parliament armed with a knife.
Moments later, a police officer who was guarding parliament was stabbed and killed.
The attacker, dressed in black, was shot by another armed officer and died of his injuries.
The Guardian understands the initial working theories of the police investigation are the attacker was inspired by Isis and was most likely a “lone actor”.
The attacker’s identity was already known to counter-terrorism officials.
On Wednesday the geopolitical ramifications led to people fleeing for their lives near one of the most famous sites in London, in the shadow of Big Ben.
Rowley said investigators were trying to establish the attackers associates and his preparation for the attack.
Theresa May was rushed out of parliament as the attack unfolded and later chaired an emergency meaning of the government’s crisis committee, Cobra.
Shortly before 9pm on Wednesday, her voice cracking with emotion, the prime minister confirmed that what she called the “sick and depraved” attack had been carried out by a single assailant.
She also praised the bravery of the police and other emergency services, who “ran towards the danger, even as they encouraged others to move the other way”.
The prime minister added that Britain’s threat level would remain at severe, where it has been for some time; but she struck a defiant tone, insisting it would be business as usual for MPs and Londoners on Thursday.
“The location of this attack was no accident.
The terrorists chose to strike at the heart of our capital city where all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech.”
Mark Rowley, head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard, said: “This is a day that we had planned for – that we all hoped would never happen – but sadly it is now a reality.”
On Wednesday night, a massive investigation involving Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command and domestic security service MI5 was under way.
Police chiefs have ordered extra officers, armed and unarmed, on to the streets of the capital.
British officials have watched how attack after attack has left their near neighbours in France in a state of emergency since 2015, and will be anxious to prevent any further attacks.
The national terrorism threat level remains at severe.
It means an attack is feared to be highly likely but there is no intelligence a specific plot is imminent.
Parliament was filled with MPs a couple of hours after prime minister’s question time, who had been alerted by the sound of shots being fired.
Within minutes, David Lidington, the leader of the Commons, told stunned MPs: “What I am able to say to the house is there has been a serious incident within the estate.
“It seems that a police officer has been stabbed, that the alleged assailant was shot by armed police.”
Eyewitnesses described how a scene of horror suddenly unfolded at what is one of the UK’s busiest tourist spots.
Rob Lyon, 34, from Rugby, was walking along Westminster Bridge with a colleague when he saw a 4x4 vehicle travelling at high speed, hitting pedestrians.
He said: “I heard a wheel definitely hit a kerb, quite a loud crunch noise, I looked up and saw a car clearly hitting people as it came towards me.
“A colleague I was with, James, I heard him sort of shout.
I instinctively jumped off the pavement.
“I could see people being hit.
And then the car just carried on up the bridge and I just looked around and was really in shock.”
Radoslaw Sikorski, the former Polish foreign minister, saw at least five people lying on the ground after being “mown down” by a car.
“I heard what I thought what I thought was just a collision and then I looked through the window of the taxi and saw someone down, obviously in great distress,” he said.
Pictures emerged after the incident showing people lying injured on Westminster Bridge, some of them bleeding seriously.
A woman was pulled alive from the Thames with serious injuries after having fallen into the water during the attack.
The car then sped towards the Palace of Westminster, and came to a halt on the pavement, up against railings to the north of New Palace Yard, the green space adjacent to Big Ben, opposite an entrance to Westminster tube station.
A man with a knife was then seen running through the gates of the Palace of Westminster, across New Palace Yard and stabbing a police officer.
The attacker continued his rampage, targeting a second officer, according to witnesses.
But he was shot by police as, knife in hand, he approached a second officer.
Eyewitness Rick Longley said he saw the car crashed into the railings and a man leaping out.
He said: “We were just walking up to the station and there was a loud bang and a guy, someone, crashed a car and took some pedestrians out.
“They were just laying there and then the whole crowd just surged around the corner by the gates just opposite Big Ben.
A guy came past my right shoulder with a big knife and just started plunging it into the policeman.”
In the aftermath of the attack, the Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood helped treat the injured officer, unsuccessfully trying to resuscitate him.
The Bournemouth MP, a former soldier, was pictured with blood on his forehead, helping the police officer in Parliament Square.
His brother Jonathan was killed in the 2002 Bali terror attack.
Two people could be seen lying within New Palace Yard, immediately outside Westminster Hall.
The sitting in the House of Commons was suspended while police officers sealed off the area. Staff inside parliament were told to stay inside their offices.
Minutes after the incident, an air ambulance landed in Parliament Square, as sirens were heard outside, but the officer could not be saved.
Ken Marsh, chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said: “This incident sadly shows the dangers our colleagues face on a daily basis.
They show incredible bravery protecting the public.”
Up to 1,000 people were evacuated for hours at various locations, including Westminster Abbey.
Parliament was evacuated slowly with it taking several hours for people to be let out.
Hospitals in London were put on alert and of the 20 injured, eight were taken to the major trauma centre at King’s College hospital, with two people in critical condition and six stable.
Those at Kings were six men and two women.
Two casualties were treated at St Thomas’s hospital, immediately opposite the Houses of Parliament, a man and a woman, both of whom are stable.
The ambulance service said eight of those injured were treated at the scene.
As well as preventing further attacks, police chiefs want to halt and hate attacks following the atrocity.
In a statement the Muslim Council of Britain said: “We condemn this attack and while it is still too early to speculate on the motives, our thoughts and prayers are for the victims and those affected.
We pay tribute too to the police and emergency services who handled this with bravery.
The Palace of Westminster is the centre of our democracy and we must all ensure that it continues to serve our country and its people with safety and security.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan said: “London is the greatest city in the world and 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.”