Londoners fight back against terror

A police officer carrying a bunch of flowers with a message of sympathy near Borough Market, London on June 4 after an attack left 7 people dead and dozens injured.
A police officer carrying a bunch of flowers with a message of sympathy near Borough Market, London on June 4 after an attack left 7 people dead and dozens injured.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP, REUTERS) - As three assailants sought to strike fear at the heart of the British capital on Saturday (June 3) night, some Londoners showed incredible courage and fought back.

The attack began when the perpetrators smashed their van into pedestrians around 10.00pm (5.00am Sunday Singapore time) before sprinting, armed with knives, towards nearby bars packed with revellers.

"It looked like he was aiming for groups of people," Mark Roberts, a 53-year-old management consultant, told Reuters. He saw at least six people on the ground after the van veered on and off the pavement. "It was horrendous."

Taxi driver Chris was on London Bridge as the attack unfolded, and recalled the chaos.

"I saw a young girl being stabbed in the chest," he told LBC radio, recalling how the three "went randomly along Borough High Street stabbing people".

"I said to the guy in my cab I was going to try to hit him, I was going to ram him. I turned around and tried, but he side-stepped me," he added.

The attack took place a few minutes after the end of the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Juventus and many fans were watching the football on television in some of the trendy area's bars.

Mr Gerard Vowles, 47, was heading home after watching the football match at the Ship Pub in Borough when he saw a woman being stabbed 10 to 15 times.

"She was going, 'Help me, help me' and I couldn't do nothing," he told the Guardian newspaper. 

Distraught, he followed the attackers to Borough Market - a food market that dates back centuries and is housed in an elegant 19th century structure - and started throwing whatever he could find at them including chairs, glasses and bottles.

"As they left I was going 'Oi, oi, cowards!'", he later told Sky TV. 

"I know it was a silly thing to do but I was trying to save people's lives," he said. "I was just trying to get their attention by throwing things at them ... I thought if I throw bottles or chairs they can come after me. If I can get them to come to the main road then the police can stop them, they can obviously shoot them." 

He said the attackers chased him after he managed to hit one of them in the back with a chair.

"I knew if I slipped over I'd be a dead man, I'd be killed there and then," he added. 

Other witnesses reported seeing a man with a large blade, similar to a kitchen knife, and victims bleeding from stab wounds. They said people were fleeing the area in panic.

One witness, who only gave the BBC his first name of Ben, said he saw a man dressed in red who was stabbing a man with a blade that appeared to be about 10 inches long. "He was being stabbed quite coldly and he slumped to the ground," he said of the victim.

Seven people were killed and nearly 50 more were injured in the rampage.

The three attackers were shot dead by police outside the Wheatsheaf, a trendy pub on the edge of the market.

Just like the people of Manchester - struck by a suicide bombing which killed 22 people less than two weeks earlier - Londoners rallied together.

Many took to social media, opening up their homes to stranded people while taxi drivers ferried people out of the London Bridge area as quickly as possible.

The Oval Tube station Twitter account posted a message of encouragement.

Staff from the Sainsbury's supermarket were spotted giving food to police.

Gurdwaras - Sikh places of worship - were open to those who needed them.

Dozens of people were also seen sleeping on the floor in the reception area of the Ibis hotel in nearby Blackfriars.

"This is our city," London Mayor Sadiq Khan said after condemning the "cowardly" attack.

Striking a defiant tone, Mr Khan warned that the British capital "will never let these cowards win and we will never be cowed by terrorism".