London: British police on Friday shot dead a man who had strapped a fake bomb to his body and stabbed a number of people in what they said was a terrorism incident in the London Bridge area of the capital.
Police said they had been alerted at just before 2 pm to a stabbing at a premises near London Bridge, the scene of a deadly attack by Islamist militants two years ago.
Scores of police, some armed with submachine guns, rushed to the scene, ushering bemused office workers and tourists out of an area packed with office buildings, banks, restaurants and bars. Workers in office blocks in the area were told to stay inside.
"A male suspect was shot by specialist armed officers from the City of London police and I can confirm that this suspect died at the scene," the United Kingdom's top counter-terrorism officer, Neil Basu, said in a press briefing later.
"A number of other people received injuries during this incident," Basu said. "We believe a device that was strapped to the body of the suspect was a hoax explosive device."
A video posted on Twitter showed a group of about half a dozen men wrestling with someone on the ground on the sidewalk of the bridge. One of them backs away from the scene carrying a knife.
As he looks towards the melee, an armed police officer drags another person away from the man on the floor. Soon after, what sound like two gunshots ring out, and the man on the ground stops moving. Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has called a snap election for December 12 and is due to host NATO leaders, including US President Donald Trump next week, returned to Downing Street and was updated on the incident.
"This is an appalling incident and all my thoughts are with the victims and their families," Johnson said in a statement. "I want to thank the emergency services and members of the public for their immense bravery."
His main opponent, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, said he was shocked by the incident and that his thoughts were with those caught up in it.
Ordinary Londoners demonstrated "breathtaking heroism" in disarming the knife-wielding attacker, the city's mayor Sadiq Khan said.
"What's remarkable about the images we've seen is the breath-taking heroism of members of the public who literally ran towards danger not knowing what confronted them," Khan told reporters, adding that the man had been wearing a fake bomb.
"Members of the public didn't realise at the time that was a hoax device, and they really are the best of us," Khan added.
George Robarts, a translator who was on the bridge at the time of the attack, said an unidentified man ran through the traffic and jumped the central partition to tackle the attacker with several other people.
"We ran away but looks like he disarmed him," he said. "Amazing bravery."
Rob Underwood, who was at the scene, said that people scattered as the attack unfolded and then hit the ground.
"Apart from momentarily looking up and seeing whatever that flash might have been, it's difficult. You feel as though you're in a bubble, really," he told Reuters. "It was almost like a firecracker going off."
"It's difficult when you're on the floor, really, your major priority is just to try and get out of danger and stay safe."
The ambulance service declared a "major incident" in the area and London Bridge station, a busy commuter hub, was closed. People in buildings around the scene were evacuated to the north side of the River Thames by security services.
Cars and buses on the busy bride were at a standstill, with a white truck stopped diagonally across the lanes. Video footage showed police pointing guns at the truck before moving to check its container.
British Transport Police said London Bridge station, one of the city’s busiest rail hubs, was closed and trains were not stopping there.
City of London Police, the force responsible for the business district, urged people to stay away from the area.
White House pledges support
Condemning the attack, the White House pledged "full support to our ally, the United Kingdom", said White House spokesperson Judd Deere.
"President (Donald) Trump has been briefed on this morning's attack at the London Bridge and is monitoring the situation," Deere said in a written statement. "The United States strongly condemns all horrific acts of violence on innocent people, and we pledge our full support to our ally, the United Kingdom."
London Bridge was the scene of an attack in June 2017 when three militants drove a van into pedestrians and then attacked people in the surrounding area, killing eight people and injuring at least 48. Islamic State said its fighters were responsible.
The month before, a suicide bomber killed 22 children and adults and wounded 59 at a packed concert hall in the English city of Manchester, as crowds began leaving a concert by US singer Ariana Grande.
And in March the same year, an attacker stabbed a policeman close to London's parliament buildings after a car ploughed into pedestrians on nearby Westminster Bridge. Six people died, including the assailant and the policeman he stabbed, and at least 20 were injured in what police called a "marauding terrorist attack".
Earlier this month, Britain had lowered its national terrorism threat level to "substantial" from "severe", its lowest level since 2014.