‘Blood, screaming and chaos’ as employees, patrons at hall fought London Bridge terrorist
|Toronto Star 02 Dec 2019 at 13:49|
LONDON — Fresh details emerged Monday about the chaotic scenes that led up to the moment when Usman Khan, 28, was fatally shot by police Friday in a terrorist incident.
In the attack near London Bridge, he killed two Cambridge graduates who were working with prisoners and stabbed at least five others.
On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were among those who attended a vigil in London to honour Saskia Jones, 23, and Jack Merritt, 25, who were killed in the attack.
On Sunday, the two political leaders had clashed over whose government was to blame for the early release of Khan, who served less than half of a 16-year sentence for his role in a plot to blow up the London Stock Exchange. But after Merritt’s family pleaded with politicians not to politicize their son’s death, the tone was more muted Monday.
Speaking to the BBC, Toby Williamson, chief executive of Fishmongers Hall, explained how his staff and guests confronted and fought Khan.
It all began shortly before 2 p.m. Friday at Fishmongers Hall, where Cambridge University was hosting a five-year anniversary event for Learning Together, a prison-based education program. Khan was attending the event.
Williamson described how an employee, whom he identified only as Lukasz and who works in the basement of the building, had been cleaning glasses there when he heard screams.
He quickly ran up to the first floor of the hall, where he came across “blood, screaming and chaos,” Williamson said. Lukasz grabbed a long stick off a wall and charged at an assailant who had two knives in his hands.
Williamson said Lukasz charged at Khan’s chest with the stick, but it failed to make much impact. Police would later say that the assailant was wearing a fake explosives vest.
“At that point, he’s got about a minute of one-on-one straight combat. This guy we know now by the name of Khan, he works his way up Lukasz’s pole, slashing with this knife and (Lukasz) takes five wounds to his left side and is going to lose some strength on that side,” Williamson said.
Lukasz’s actions allowed time for others in the room to escape to other parts of the building, Williamson said.
Two men attending the charity event — one armed with a fire extinguisher, the other with a narwhal tusk ripped off the wall — then joined the fight. Khan then ran down the main staircase and tried to flee the building. A man Williamson identified only as Andy, a former Ministry of Defense police officer, was stabbed in the chest before he reluctantly opened the door, Williamson said.
People piled out of the building in pursuit of Khan, with Lukasz leading the charge.
“The first one after him is Lukasz,” Williamson said. He was shouting at the public to “get out of the way” and “get back.”
“But I tell you what, members of the public just don’t do that nowadays. They do what they needed to do,” Williamson added. Amateur footage circulated widely on social media showed a man with a fire extinguisher and another with a narwhal tusk wrestling Khan to the ground.
During the vigil at London’s Guildhall on Monday, Mayor Sadiq Khan said that the “best way to defeat this hatred” was to focus on the “values that bind us” and to take hope from the heroism of “ordinary Londoners” who “ran towards danger.”
He also said that people could draw “inspiration from the lives of Jack and Saskia, who from an early age chose to dedicate themselves to helping others.”
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Merritt’s family has said that their son wouldn’t want the tragedy to be a pretext for introducing more draconian sentences on prisoners.
David Merritt, Jack’s father, tweeted the front pages of some of Monday’s newspapers that claimed there was a “new blitz on freed jihadis.”
“Don’t use my son’s death, and his and his colleague’s photos, to promote your vile propaganda. Jack stood against everything you stand for: hatred, division, ignorance,” he wrote.