A lone attacker, believed to be a Libyan refugee, went on a stabbing spree in a busy park in the southern English city of Reading, killing three people and injuring three others, the deadliest terrorist incident to strike Britain since 2017 London Bridge attack.
United Kingdom counter-terrorism officers on Sunday said they are investigating the knife attack in Forbury Gardens park in Reading on Saturday evening as a "terrorist incident".
A 25-year-old suspect arrested in connection with the attack was on Sunday named across the British media as Khairi Saadallah, a Libyan refugee resident in the UK.
Saadallah was apprehended within minutes of police being called to the scene of the terror attack on Saturday evening and was arrested on suspicion of murder and remains in custody.
According to reports, it is understood that Saadallah came to Britain several years ago as a refugee following the civil war in Libya.
Mental health is being considered a major factor in the incident, 'The Sunday Telegraph' quoted security sources as saying. It was also claimed that Saadallah was known to officers and had previously spent at least 12 months in jail for minor offences.
The park was busy with large crowds gathered outdoors to enjoy the good weather when the attack took place. Panic set in as the knife-wielding man was spotted, with shouts “run, run” heard as people started dispersing from the area.
Images later emerged of local police carrying out an armed operation at a block of flats in Reading, where the suspect was apparently held. About a dozen armed police officers with shields were seen entering the block and families living in the building were moved out. A loud bang was heard from the inside later.
The local Thames Valley Police had initially launched a murder inquiry and said it was keeping an open mind on the motive behind the knife rampage in the park in the city centre.
“Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, Senior National Coordinator for the Counter Terrorism Policing network, has on Sunday morning declared the incident a terrorist incident, and Counter Terrorism Policing South East will be taking over the investigation,” a Thames Valley Police statement said.
“A 25-year-old man who was arrested on suspicion of murder last night, remains in police custody at this time,” the statement said. It made no reference to reports that the man was a Libyan national.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to the unarmed officers who tackled the suspect at the scene, with reports of a policeman having “rugby tackled” the knifeman to the ground.
"I'm appalled and sickened that people should lose their lives in this way and our thoughts are very much with the families and friends of the victims today," said Johnson.
"If there are lessons that we need to learn about how we handle such cases, how we handle the events leading up to such cases then we will learn those lessons and we will not hesitate to take action when necessary," he said, confirming that he had spoken to Thames Valley Police for an update on Saturday's attack.
It is the deadliest terrorist incident to strike Britain since the June 2017 London Bridge attack, in which 11 people, including three attackers, were killed, the Independent reported.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, head of counter-terrorism policing, described the attack as an “atrocity” and said police have found "nothing to suggest anyone else was involved".
"Let me be clear, there is no specific intelligence to suggest anyone attending crowded places is at risk, but I would ask the public: please continue with your daily lives, but be alert, not alarmed, when you are out in public," the Indian-origin counter-terrorism chief said.
He said "the motivation for this horrific act is far from certain" but added it was clear that it was not associated with an earlier peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration at Forbury Gardens, the site of the attack.
Basu also praised the "unarmed and incredibly brave" officers who managed to restrain the attacker at the scene.
“This was a truly tragic incident and the thoughts of Thames Valley Police are with all those who have been affected,” said Chief Constable John Campbell of Thames Valley Police.
“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. We will be working closely with our partners over the coming days and weeks to support the Reading community during this time, as well as with CTPSE as they progress their investigation,” he said.
“We have made one arrest and at this stage we are not looking for any other people in connection with this incident. There is no intelligence to suggest that there is any further danger to the public, however we urge people to remain vigilant and report anything suspicious by calling police,” Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter, Head of Crime at Thames Valley Police had earlier said.
The police force also confirmed that the attack had no connection with an anti-racism Black Lives Matter protest that took place at the same park earlier on Saturday.
Ministers said that Prime Minister Johnson and UK Home Secretary Priti Patel will remain in contact with the police leading the investigation through Sunday. They had issued Twitter messages expressing their shock at the “senseless attack”.