London attacker was family man, gym enthusiast nicknamed 'Abz': Neighbours

Police forensics officers carry plastic evidence bags as they continue to investigate an address in Barking, east London on June 5, 2017.
Police forensics officers carry plastic evidence bags as they continue to investigate an address in Barking, east London on June 5, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Neighbours of one of the suspected assailants in the London stabbings remembered him as a friendly family man and gym aficionado nicknamed "Abz", seen with the van used in the attack.

Located in the multi-ethnic area of Barking, in east London, the flat where British media reported the man lived was raided by police on Sunday and an AFP photographer saw women in headscarves being taken out - their faces covered.

"We saw him many, many times around here," said Salahudeen, a 40-year-old driving instructor, who lives near the ground-floor flat in a modern-looking apartment block in the east London suburb.

"He used to be friendly but suddenly... he wasn't acting as normal. He wasn't aggressive; he used to chat but lately he was just 'hi' and 'bye'," he said.

Salahudeen said the man had two children - a boy and a baby girl.

"One is around three years old and the girl was just born two weeks ago," he said, adding that he would see him carrying the boy on his shoulders and playing football in the park.

Police on Monday named two of the three men behind the terror attack in London as Khuram Butt and Rachid Redouane, though it was unclear whether either of these was 'Abz".

Butt was 27 and a British citizen born in Pakistan, while Redouane was 30 and "claimed to be Moroccan and Libyan", national counter-terrorism police chief Mark Rowley said in a statement.

 

The attackers mowed down pedestrians on London Bridge with a white hire van late Saturday, before jumping out and going around bars and restaurants in the area wearing fake suicide vests and stabbing revellers at random. They were shot dead in a hail of police gunfire.

Police said 10 people - four men and six women aged between 19 and 60 - detained at the flat remain in custody.

Three police vans and around a dozen officers could be seen outside.

Michael Mimbo, 25, who spoke on his doorstep in a neighbouring apartment complex, said the attacker was "an Asian male" - a term used in Britain to refer to people from or with origins in the Indian subcontinent.

"We call him 'Abz' at the local gym," he said.

"The van he rented was here on Friday. It was blocking people from coming in. People were beeping their cars saying: 'Get out of the way'." Mimbo said he saw the van again on Saturday at around 7:45pm - just over three hours before the attack.

"The van was racing up the street with another red car behind it," he said.

Mimbo said he saw armed police swoop on the flat on Sunday in the hours after the attack.

"I heard some shouting at people saying: 'Run, run' and they're screaming 'get down, get down'."

"I saw armed police everywhere, they had guns drawn at one of the suspects and one of them tried to run away. Another bang went off and he was on the floor, saying police may have used a Taser stun gun.

"I don't expect things to happen like that in this area but who knows what your neighbours are like?"

Nearby, diners sat out in the afternoon sunshine and swapped opinions about the raid on their doorstep, amid a constant background noise of police sirens and helicopters.

Police conducted another raid at nearby Caledon Road early Monday, with a neighbour saying they had been "in a panic".

"We were so scared and panicked we didn't come out of the bedroom," he said, while another said that three people had been taken away.

A third raid took place at a dirty yellow house in Barking on a major road into London next to warehouses, small workshops and a tyre shop.

A police forensics officer was seen entering the house and a person with their head covered was seen being led away in a police van.

"They've been there for years," Steve, who works in a tyre shop next door, told AFP. He declined to say how many people lived there or give any details about them.

"They don't bother us, we don't bother them."