A ‘knifeman’ who regularly prayed at Regent’s Park mosque ‘stabbed a Muslim crier in the shoulder’ while he called worshippers to afternoon prayers in an incident the police say is not an act of terror.
The victim has been named by mosque-goers as Raafat, aged 69. He is the muezzin at the London Central Mosque, near Regent’s Park and calls Muslims to prayer.
One witness said the suspect was a regular in the mosque and had been seen at least six months ago, adding that the victim was stabbed in the right shoulder.
It is believed that the attacker had waited until prayers had started before launching at the victim.
Police were called to the mosque just after 3pm today and found the man with stab wounds. Paramedics treated him at the scene before he was taken to hospital.
Officers remain on the scene this evening and another prayer hall as been opened while police continue with their investigations.
Police said another man was arrested at the mosque on suspicion of attempted murder. Mosque-goers tweeted images of police holding a man down on the floor.
The images showed a white man in a red hooded top, jeans and bare feet being pinned to the floor by officers inside the mosque, as others, including a small child, watched on. One video showed a knife on the floor under a plastic chair.
One witness said the suspect had been a regular in the mosque, and had been seen at least six months ago. Abi Watik, 59, said: ‘We were shocked, we didn’t know what was happening.’
He said the victim had been stabbed once in the right shoulder moments after prayers had started, and he believed the suspect had waited for that moment.
He said: ‘It has just started and he was waiting for them to start. He was praying behind him and then he stabbed him. He (the suspect) was silent the whole time.’
Mustafa Field, director of the Faiths Forum for London, told reporters outside the mosque that worshippers had said it was ‘one stab, one strike, around the neck’ of the victim.
He said: ‘Then the congregation members, some of them broke their prayers, and intervened, restrained the individual. The mosque security called the police, and the police were there within minutes, and he was restrained and taken away.’
He added: ‘I understand he was in the mosque for a while. He may have witnessed the beginning of the prayers.’
A friend of the victim has described him as a ‘selfless’ man who was well known among the community.
Waleed Mohammed, 39, said he thought the attacker came to the mosque to ‘scope what he wanted to do’ and was not a regular.
‘If he wasn’t stopped he would have murdered him and we don’t know if Rafaat is going to survive this.’
Mr Mohammed added: ‘There is only one Rafaat in the mosque, his voice comes out of that minaret five times a day, for this to happen right at the end of his career is very, very sad for the whole Muslim community.’
Another witness, Mr Ahmad said that everyone was in shock and that people were screaming.
‘It was a vicious attack. We live in a society where we hear a lot about knife crime and what have you but actually to physically be in a situation where you’re firsthand watching an attempted murder take place it’s very shocking.’
He added: ‘He has been noticed around the place for a couple of days. This is a central mosque, people come to pray if they’re on holiday. You get a lot of new faces.
‘This guy was not a regular, I’ve never seen him here in 10 years.’
Mr Ahmad also said that the situation would have been life threatening for the victim if it hadn’t been for other worshippers who had stepped in to help.
‘I called the ambulance, the ambulance came within a matter of minutes.’
Mr Ahmad added that the police also arrived within minutes and said there were a ‘couple of hundred’ people in the mosque and those around the victim went to his aid.
When asked if the suspect tried to attack again, he replied: ‘He didn’t have the chance.’
Religious leaders from all spheres tweeted their condolences this afternoon and the Archbishop of Canterbury said: ‘My sympathy is with those in shock after the stabbing at the London Central Mosque.
‘Please join me in praying for healing for the victim and for peace across our communities.’
Dr Ahmad Al Dubayan, director-general of the Islamic Cultural Centre at the mosque, said another prayer hall had been opened for worshippers while police carried out their investigation.
‘I feel sorry about what happened in the mosque, because this place is iconic, not only for Muslims but for all the British society,’ he said.
‘Many Muslims come here, many communities come here.
‘We are so sorry this has happened here, and I hope it’s only an individual incident.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: ‘I’m deeply saddened to hear of the attack at the London Central Mosque.
‘It’s so awful that this should happen, especially in a place of worship. My thoughts are with the victim and all those affected.’
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has tweeted his concern after the stabbing and said he was ‘deeply concerned by the incident’.
‘Every Londoner is entitled to feel safe in their place of worship & I want to reassure London’s communities that acts of violence in our city will not be tolerated.
‘The Met are providing extra resources in the area.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted: ‘Terrible to hear of violent incident at Regent’s Park Mosque. Thoughts are with victim, those directly affected and wider community. Grateful for rapid response of police & emergency services. Police must now be given space to investigate.’
Ayaz Ahmad, adviser to the mosque, said the Prime Minister’s office, the Home Office and the Mayor’s office had called the mosque to give their regards following the incident.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott tweeted: ‘My thoughts are with the victim, his loved ones and the entire community. Once again, this is a terrible crime. We must condemn all hate crime, wherever it occurs and whoever the perpetrators are.’
A Scotland Yard spokesman said today: ‘Police were called to a mosque in Park Road, NW8, at 3.10pm on Thursday, February 20, to reports of a stabbing.
‘Officers attended along with paramedics from the London Ambulance Service. A man, in his 70s, was found with stab injuries.
‘He was treated by paramedics before being taken to hospital. His condition has been assessed as non life-threatening.
‘A man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder. A crime scene has been put in place. Enquiries into the circumstances continue.’
The police added this afternoon: ‘A 29-year-old man, who is believed to have been attending prayers, was arrested inside the mosque on suspicion of attempted murder. He has been taken into custody at a central London police station. The incident is not being treated as terror-related at this time.’
The London Ambulance Service said the man stabbed at the mosque had been taken to a major trauma centre.
The service tweeted: ‘We sent an ambulance crew, a paramedic in a car and an advanced paramedic practitioner to this incident in Regent’s Park.
‘We treated a man at the scene and took him to a major trauma centre.’
Police did not speculate on a possible motive, but British Muslims have been the target of past attacks by far-right extremists.
In June 2018, an attacker drove a van into a crowd of people leaving evening prayers in London. One man died and a dozen people were injured.
Today is not the first time the flagship London mosque has seen violence.
In March last year two knifemen ran into the building and ‘washed their hands and faces’ to blend in with worshippers after stabbing a man in his 20s to death nearby.
That incident was not linked to the mosque, but it left worshippers shaken after they were locked in for five hours while armed police and helicopters searched the surrounding area. It was not terror-related.
The Regent’s Park Mosque, also known as the London Central mosque or the Islamic Cultural Centre, was built in 1977.