London mosque attack suspect made anti-Muslim slurs: neighbours

June 19, 2017

By Paisley Dodds and Maria Cheng, Globe and Mail |

Neighbours and acquaintances described the man who allegedly attacked a group of Muslim worshippers as an unemployed lout who was drinking heavily and making anti-Muslim remarks in the days before the attack — details to be closely examined as the investigation widened Tuesday.

The attack unfolded Monday when the alleged assailant, identified by British media as 47-year-old Darren Osborne, drove a rental van into a crowd of Muslim worshippers outside a mosque in the north London neighbourhood of Finsbury Park, an area with a significant Muslim population. The larger Finsbury Park Mosque, which was once associated with several extremist preachers before it was shut down and reformed, is located nearby. Nine people were injured in the attack.

One man also died after slipping outside the Muslim Welfare House as evening prayers concluded for the holy month of Ramadan. Makram Ali, 51, died at the scene in his daughter’s arms. She told neighbours that the van had “run over his legs.”

Edward Gardiner, who lives in the alleged assailant’s neighbourhood outside the Welsh capital of Cardiff some 150 miles from where the attack occurred, said he called police early Sunday morning to report a man who appeared to be drunk sprawled inside a parked rental van. He said the man appeared to be sleeping across the vehicle’s front three seats with the door open. On Saturday, Osborne had been thrown out of the Hollybush pub after drinking heavily and getting into an argument.

“I could smell alcohol on him and he was grunting and groaning,” Gardiner said. “I poked him but he didn’t respond so I called (police). I didn’t think anything about it but then I saw the news reports, and it was the same guy, the same van.”

British authorities have said the attacker, who is being held on terror charges, was not known to them or associated with extremist groups, but investigators are exploring reported anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim remarks. Police are also looking into a statement made by his family that he was “troubled for a long time.” Police, who haven’t formally named him, said Tuesday they could not release details on whether the attacker was drunk at the time of the attack or whether he was on other medication.

In a statement on behalf of the family, Osborne’s nephew, Ellis Osborne, said they were devastated for the families of the victims but said that his uncle was not a racist. Osborne’s sister, Nicola, said her brother had been “troubled for a long time.”

The attack, which followed three Islamic State group-inspired attacks in Britain, drew criticism from the Muslim community, which said police were slow to call the incident a “terror attack.” They also complained that a recent spike in hate crimes targeting Muslims has garnered little attention. Since the London Bridge attack earlier this month, police say hate crimes against Muslims have increased five-fold.

The attacks, which have left 34 dead and scores wounded, have polarized some sections of Britain, already divided over the decision to leave the European Union in a vote that was largely fueled by racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric fanned by right-leaning tabloids.

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