© 2024 WUTC
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Civilians Confronted Attacker Armed With A Knife On London Bridge


The people who took down a man armed with a knife on London Bridge are being called heroes. One man grabbed a narwhal tusk; another man had a fire extinguisher. Two people were killed in the attack, and several others were injured, but it could have been much worse. NPR's Frank Langfitt has been following all of this from London. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Noel.

KING: So I know that this story is still developing, but tell me what we know happened.

LANGFITT: Sure. It's an extraordinary story, and every day, as details come out, it becomes more so. This all happened at a building right at the edge of London Bridge. It was an event for a prisoner rehabilitation program that was run by Cambridge Universities in which - University in which students and prisoners studied together in prison.

Now, the terrorist, a guy named Usman Khan, he had actually participated in the program. He'd spent time in prison earlier on terror charges. He went to the event and went on a rampage, effectively attacking those who tried to help him, killing two people, as you mentioned. Then there's this counterattack where people who are in the building - one guy grabs a narwhal tusk; another grabs the fire extinguisher. They chase Usman Khan out onto London Bridge, stabbing at him with the narwhal tusk, hitting him with the fire extinguisher, basically capturing him. Police come in and then killed Khan on the bridge.

KING: As you said, some really extraordinary details. How are just regular people in the U.K. responding to all this?

LANGFITT: You know, this is the fifth attack I've covered, at least, here in London in the last three years, terror attacks. And they're usually - there's not much - I mean, usually, it's just a lot of carnage. This is one where I think people have pride. They find it a bit reassuring, the way people stepped up like this. Also, this is a country that hasn't had a lot to celebrate. Brexit has been tearing the country apart in a lot of ways.

The guy who grabbed the tusk actually is a man named Lukasz from Poland. And so this has a lot of resonance because, if you remember, in the Brexit vote in 2016, a lot of people voted to actually push immigrants out. They didn't want more immigrants coming in, like this man. He's the one, indeed, who's one of the heroes, it seems. Poland wants to give him a medal for what he did. And today, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, he spoke at a vigil for the victims, and here's what he had to say.


SADIQ KHAN: The best way to defeat this hatred is not by turning on one another, but it's by focusing on the values that bind us, to take hope from the heroism of ordinary Londoners who ran towards danger, risking their lives to help people they didn't even know.

KING: Well, let's talk about those people. Over the weekend, Frank, police did identify the victims. What do we know about them?

LANGFITT: Well, any stories like this is tragic, but this especially so because they were very young and promising. Two Cambridge University graduates in their 20s who were studying criminology - Saskia Jones, she volunteered at this event on Friday; and a man named Jack Merritt, the other victim, was helping to coordinate the event - both described as very thoughtful, compassionate and having bright futures. And the headline in the Cambridge News was, quote, "they tried to make the world a better place."

KING: Britain's holding national elections in 10 days. Has this attack become part of the campaigning?

LANGFITT: Inevitably, in this environment, it quickly became a political football. Usman Khan, he got out on early release because of this terror conviction we were - I was mentioning. So Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he says that Khan was released under policies under the rival government, the opposition Labour Party, which he's battling against to stay in the prime minister's office. And here is what Johnson said. He's going to get much tougher on crime. And here's what he said on Sky News.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: I have long said that this system simply isn't working. It does not make sense for us, as a society, to be putting terrorist - people convicted of terrorist offenses - of serious, violent offenses - out on early release.

LANGFITT: Family members of the victims said that they should not be politicized.

KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.