British police said Sunday they were treating a stabbing spree in which a lone assailant killed three people in a park filled with families and friends in the southern English city of Reading as a “terrorism incident”.
The Thames Valley police said three people were also seriously injured and they had detained a 25-year-old suspect from the historic town 60 kilometres (35 miles) west of London.
They made no reference to reports that the man was a Libyan national. Footage showed what appeared to be a large number of counter-terror police performing a controlled explosion at a residence where the suspect is believed to have lived shortly after the Saturday evening attack.
“Counter Terrorism Policing can now confirm that the stabbing incident that happened in Reading last night, has now been declared a terrorist incident,” police said in a statement.
The counter-terror police “will be taking over the investigation,” said the statement. Downing Street said Prime Minister Boris Johnson was briefed about the incident by security officials and senior ministers on Sunday morning.
The Conservative leader condemned the “appalling incident” and top politicians expressed sympathies for those hurt at Forbury Gardens — a popular park situated next to the ruins of the 12th-century Reading Abbey.
“Incidents of this nature are very rare, though I know that will be of little comfort to those involved and understand the concern that this incident will have caused amongst our local community,” Thames Valley Police chief John Campbell said.
A Black Lives Matter protest took place at the park earlier but police said there was no indication the two were linked.
“In terms of the protest and the people who attended from Black Lives Matter, we’re all safe,” the Reading BLM event organiser Nieema Hassan said on Facebook.
“None of us are affected. We had all left by the time this happened.” Witnesses reported seeing two air ambulances and several police cars rush to the park on Saturday evening.
One witness described a lone assailant walking through a park filled with people relaxing on the grass and stabbing them at random.
“The park was pretty full. A lot of people sat around drinking with friends,” Lawrence Wort told the Press Association.
“One lone person walked though, suddenly shouted some unintelligible words and went around a large group of around 10, trying to stab them.”
Wort said he saw three people being stabbed “in the neck and under the arms”. The assailant then lunged at another group and “got one person in the back of the neck”, Wort said.
Another witness told The Sunday Mirror that one group of people who were attacked were “just in a circle chatting”.
The assailant “was tapping them on the head. Then I thought someone had been sick. But it was blood spraying out,” said the witness.
Paramedic teams were seen trying to resuscitate the injured as they lay unresponsive on the ground. Officials said two people were being treated in the emergency department of Reading’s Berkshire Hospital.
“An horrific, dreadful incident,” policing minister Kit Malthouse tweeted. The main opposition Labour party’s leader Keir Starmer called the killings “very concerning”.
“My thoughts are with the families and loved ones of those killed in yesterday’s horrific attack in Reading, and with those injured,” Starmer wrote on Twitter.
Britain has witnessed two terror-related attacks in the past year. A convicted terrorist who was out on parole after serving a sentence for terror offences was shot dead by police after stabbing five people — two fatally — by London Bridge in the heart of the British capital in November.
Police killed another assailant who injured three people in a London stabbing attack in February. An overwhelming majority of Britain’s serious crimes are committed with knives and other stabbing weapons because of very strict gun ownership laws.
Johnson’s Conservative government promised to toughen up penalties for terror-related crimes after winning a sweeping mandate in a December general election.—AFP