Four people, including a police officer, have been confirmed dead and at least 20 others were injured in a major terror attack outside the Houses of Parliament, the London Metropolitan Police stated on Wednesday.
The attack in the heart of the British capital was the first major attack since July 7, 2005, when a coordinated series of bomb blasts targeted its public transportation system during rush hour. The July 7 bombings killed 52 people, injuring more than 700 others.
Mark Rowley, the head of counter-terrorism at the Met, said the police officer died after being stabbed by a lone attacker attempting to enter the House of Commons. The suspect was shot and killed.
Rowley said: “This is a day we’ve planned for but hoped would never happen. Sadly it’s now a reality.
“The attack started when a car was driven over Westminster Bridge hitting and injuring a number of members of the public, also including three police officers on their way back from a commendation ceremony.
“The car then crashed near to parliament and at least one man armed with a knife continued the attack and tried to enter parliament.
“Sadly, I can confirm that four people have died. That includes the police officer protecting parliament and one man we believe to be the attacker, who was shot by a police firearms officer.
“The officer’s family has been made aware. At least 20 people have been injured.”
A woman believed to have been thrown over the bridge into the River Thames, was later pulled alive from the water by port authorities while another fell on to a hard surface below the bridge.
The car eventually crashed on the pavement, up against railings to the north of New Palace Yard, the green space adjacent to Big Ben, opposite an entrance to Westminster tube station.
Rowley said that three officers were among the 20 people who were hurt in the attack on the bridge. Also, a diplomatic source told Reuters three French students were among the injured.
Two people were spotted lying within New Palace Yard, immediately outside Westminster Hall. The sitting in the House of Commons was suspended while police officers sealed off the area. Staff inside parliament were told to stay inside their offices.
Minutes after the incident, an emergency services helicopter landed in Parliament Square, as sirens wailed outside. Air ambulance medics from a helicopter came to the aid of the casualties.
Immediately before the incident, at about 2.45 p.m., people were seen running from the direction of Westminster Bridge and around the corner into Parliament Square.
The UK Prime Minister Theresa May was in the Commons lobby when the incident occurred, according to the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt. Hunt was with other ministers in a cabinet sub-committee when they were informed about the incident.
May was whisked away to safety by her security detail once the attack occurred.
Commander BJ Harrington, head of the Met’s public order command, said a full counter-terrorism investigation was under way.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people were evacuated from Parliament to Westminster Abbey, the UK Press Association reported.
Addressing the crowd, which included ministers, MPs, peers and tourists from the pulpit, a Met Police superintendent said it would take around 90 minutes to process everyone.
Police said people would be assessed to see if they had any information. A prayer was then said for the victims of the attack.
The Press Association, quoting an unidentified doctor, also reported at least one woman was among those killed and other victims had “catastrophic” injuries.
Many people were lying on the ground – some bleeding profusely and apparently unconscious – on Westminster Bridge near Britain’s parliament.
“The alleged assailant was shot by armed police, an ambulance is currently attending the scene to remove the casualties,” House of Commons Leader David Lidington said.
Witnesses initially reported multiple attacks near parliament.
“We saw a black vehicle at full speed and it ran down a number of people. I could see a lot of people flying,” tourist Babi Nagy told Al Jazeera. “Immediately it came to mind that this was a terrorist attack.”
Polish politician and journalist Radoslaw Sikorski posted a video on Twitter of the aftermath on the bridge, showing several injured people lying on the ground.
Another witness said he saw victims scattered along the street.
“As I was walking up the steps, there was a man who had fallen and medics were taking care of him. There was a lady who was also stabbed or shot. There was a lot of blood,” Martin Pearce, visibly shaken, told Al Jazeera at the scene.
Security analyst Afzal Ashraf told Al Jazeera that vigilance by the public and authorities was now necessary.
“One of the features of these forms of attacks is a follow-on attack. They like to have publicity. The potential threat is huge,” Afzal said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Twitter that an urgent investigation had been launched. “My thoughts are with those affected and their families,” he said.
The British Prime Minister May, who chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra Committee to discuss the London attack, ordered flags to be lowered to half-mast over Downing Street as a mark of respect to the innocent people who lost their lives.
The Cobra Committee, which she chairs, brings together government ministers with senior officials of the emergency services and security and intelligence agencies.
Also, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her thoughts were with everyone caught up in the “dreadful” incident at Westminster, including the emergency services.
She said she supported the decision to suspend the Scottish Parliament.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said: “There’s been an extremely serious incident in parliament today. Lives have been lost and people have been seriously injured.”
In a statement, the UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “The British people will be united in working together to defeat those who would harm our shared values. Values of democracy, tolerance and the rule of law. Values symbolised by the Houses of Parliament. Values that will never be destroyed.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer later told reporters: “We obviously condemn today’s attack in Westminster which the United Kingdom is treating as an act of terrorism.”
Applauding the quick response of the British police “and their first responders made to the situation”, Spicer added: “The victims in this are in our thoughts and our prayers. The city of London and Her Majesty’s government have the full support of the US government in responding to the attack and bringing those to justice who are responsible.”
It also emerged that the first doctor on the scene of the Westminster attack was the current chairman of the junior doctors’ committee at the British Medical Association.
The doctor, Jeeves Wijesuriya, was at Westminster being interviewed by a regional BBC team, when the events started unfolding.
He tried to resuscitate both the police officer and the assailant, and worked with paramedics in the ambulance on the way to hospital.
He told the BBC: “I saw the screaming and ran to help.
“The police got me in to help at the scene.
“We gave the officer cardiac massage and spent 52 minutes trying to resuscitate the other man.
“We did everything we could, in terms of basic life support and starting to triage injured people at the scene.”
The wide roads leading in all directions to the Houses of Parliament were reportedly silent and empty, cordoned off by police tape, following the deadly terror attack. The police cordon covered an area of a few square miles and kept being extended.