Stories of heroism are being shared in the wake of eight minutes of terror that struck the Borough Market district of London late Saturday.
Seven people died in a stabbing rampage carried out by three men, who also drove a van at Saturday night revelers. Several of the nearly 50 people wounded in the attack remain in a critical condition, police officials say.
But police say there could have been more casualties if staff and customers in pubs and restaurants had not reacted promptly, and others hadn’t intervened to slow the attackers.
A speedy response by armed police — the three attackers were shot dead within eight minutes of the alarm being raised — also reduced the number of casualties.
One of the attackers, described by witnesses as a clean-shaven man between 25 and 30 years old, stabbed about half-a-dozen people in the Globe pub before he was shot dead by police. Lewis Bennett told the Guardian newspaper:"People started screaming and running out the back door. He was shouting ‘Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar’ and he had a British accent."
Bennett said the assailant lunged at police as they entered via a backdoor. One policeman “knelt on the floor and fired two shots at the attacker, taking him out instantly.”
Unarmed police contained assailants
Before armed officers arrived, unarmed police did their best to confront the attackers. According to the Ken Marsh, chairman of the London police association, three officers from the Metropolitan Police were injured as well as an officer from another police force.There were reports that one of the officers, a rugby-player, grappled with an assailant.
One of the first to intervene as the assailants, armed with long hunting knives, went on their frenzy after crashing their van near London Bridge underground station was a transport policeman who reacted to screams and rushed to confront the attackers. He was stabbed several times, suffering “serious but not life-threatening injuries,” according to police.
As the attack unfolded, shock and confusion gave way to panic, but staff at several restaurants reacted quickly, locking doors and shepherding customers to cellars or kitchens.
A taxi driver, who picked up two people fleeing the Black & Blue restaurant in Borough Market, told Sky News they thought their actions had saved lives.
“They described to me how they prevented the guys from getting into the restaurant,” the taxi driver said.
He added: “They tried to break in. She managed to hold the door for a few seconds, but then I think they were overpowered. They managed to escape from a rear door, possibly saving a good 20 people’s lives, as they mentioned whilst I took them home.” At the pub, as staff and customers retreated, some hurled bottles and cutlery at the attackers.
Likewise, at the Sheaf pub, where the bouncers reacted quickly as fearful people ran in seeking sanctuary.
“We didn’t really know what was going on,” said Will Orton, 25. “The bouncers did a really good job, they shut the doors and locked everyone in.”
Defending the wounded
Elsewhere in the area, home to many restaurants and pubs that draw large crowds of mainly young people on the weekends, some bystanders sought to defend those being attacked. One man, who gave his name as Gerard, told the BBC he saw the attackers stab one woman a dozen times and heard another wounded man covered in blood pleading for help.
He gave chase as the assailants moved on, shouting at people to run, warning them, “They’re terrorists, they’re stabbing everyone!”
At the Southwark Tavern, he saw the men stab a bouncer. With no weapons of his own, he resorted to “throwing bottles at them, pint glasses, stools.” Customers joined in, throwing chairs, glasses and other large objects to keep the attackers from entering.
Earlier, Holly Jones told reporters she saw a man driving a white van veer onto the pavement at speed.
“He swerved right round me and then hit five or six people,” she said. “He hit about two people in front of me and then three behind and then swerved back into the road. He did this three times before he drove off. It was a blur. I’m in total shock.” Two of the injured had badly mangled legs.
Gratitude for police response
Many of those caught up in violence spoke of their relief at the quick arrival of armed police.
“It was one of those adrenaline-pumping moments,” said one young man named Will. “It was nerve-wracking for me and the wife. For me the priority was too get out of this safely. I am really impressed how quickly the police and emergency services got here. All credit to them.”
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said: “Armed officers responded very quickly and bravely, confronting three male suspects who were shot and killed in Borough Market. The suspects were wearing what looked like explosive vests but these were later established to be hoaxes.”
A counterterrorism official told VOA the fact the men wore such vests meant they’d decided this was a suicide mission.
“They would have known we would shoot them on sight with those vests on,” he said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “appalled and furious” at attack. He praised the police.
“We have the best police and security services in the world. They plan, prepare and rehearse for these sorts of incidents and we saw their swift response last night. We saw the speed with which they shot the terrorists and how they helped the injured as well,” Khan said.