What we know:
- A van ploughed into pedestrians on London Bridge, then knifemen got out and started stabbing people
- At least seven people are dead, with expectations that the number will rise
- Two Australians have been “directly affected” by the attack, PM Malcolm Turnbull says
- Three of the confirmed casualties were attackers, police say
- Attackers were all shot dead within eight minutes of first emergency call
- Reports people stabbed in a nearby pub
- Early signs are many fewer fatalities than Manchester attack
- At least 48 patients taken to six hospitals: reports
- British PM is chairing security committee meeting
- Stabbing in Vauxhall ‘not related’, police say
Terror, confusion and sudden death reigned in London after a spate of late-night attacks plunged the British capital into chaos, with officials initially unable to confirm if there had been one incident or two – and possibly three.
The attackers, one of whom was reported to have shouted “This is for Allah”, were killed by police less than 10 minutes after they claimed their first victims on London Bridge.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said two Australians had been “directly affected” by the attack.
He said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had spoken to the parents of both Australians, one of whom is in hospital.
“Our officials will continue to provide every assistance they can to Australians affected by this shocking attack and their families,” Mr Turnbull said.
Terror first shattered the warm summer night when a van mounted the footpath on the bridge and drove at high speed into pedestrians.
No more than a few minutes later reports came in of a stabbing attack and prolonged burst of automatic weapons fire in Borough Market, near the bridge’s southern end.
And minutes after that, as police evacuated the areas, further reports of a possible third attack were received from the Vauxhall area, about three kilometres from the bridge.
Amid a plethora of confusing and often contradictory eyewitness accounts and press reports the impression gradually emerged of an organised assault by a terror squad consisting of what initially was reported as involving as many as five men.
As dawn touched London, police said they were increasingly confident there had been only three terrorists and that all had been shot and killed within eight minutes of the first emergency call being received.
After the attackers’ white Transit van wove a deadly slalom across London Bridge and came to rest outside Southwark Cathedral, men armed with long blades jumped out and begin stabbing passersby.
They then rampaged through nearby Borough Market, an entertainment district of bars and restaurants, invading pubs and stabbing more people.
Sky News quoted an unnamed eyewitness as saying the London Market attack began when a man “armed with a foot-long knife” entered a crowded restaurant and stabbed a waitress.
Patrons are reported to have thrown bottles, chairs and pint beer glasses at the attacker.
The same witness reported as many as four other “armed men” outside, although that report was later discounted as police and security officials pieced together a more accurate appraisal of the attack.
But with at least several of the attackers wrongly believed to be still on the loose, police evacuating the area insisted pedestrians hold their hands above their heads while making their way past a hastily established security cordon.
Two attackers, at least one dressed in combat fatigues, were shot by police. All were wearing what observers took to be apparent suicide belts.
Police later said the suicide belts did not contain explosives, prompting speculation the attackers were intent on taking hostages and assuring maximum media attention throughout what would have been a globally televised siege.
If that was the plan it was foiled by prompt police action, which witnesses said saw one member of the trio cut down by a hail of bullets in the rear of a Borough Market eatery.
“It looked like he was aiming for groups of people. I froze because I didn’t know what to do,” Mark Roberts, a 53-year-old management consultant, told Reuters while recalling the bridge carnage.
“It was horrendous.”
“I was thinking: Which way do I run to get away?” he said, adding that the van then veered onto the other side of the bridge before hitting a girl.
“Then three men got out with long blades, 12 inches long and went randomly along Borough High Street stabbing people at random.
“I saw a young girl stabbed in the chest.”
Amid the resulting wave of fear, the Vauxhall incident was confirmed as a false alarm, with police describing it as “a non-related stabbing” and saying the Tube station had re-opened.
Watching on, horrified
A cabbie, who declined to give his name to London’s Daily Mail, told of watching the London Bridge attack unfold and how one of the attackers dived out of the way as he tried to run him down.
“He’s veered across the road towards the right hand of where Southwark Cathedral is and rammed it where the steps are,” the cabbie said, describing how the van came to rest after running down pedestrians on the bridge.
“He just rammed it towards them, wedged it in between the lamppost and the steps, and so he’s hit people there,” the cabbie said.
“They’ve jumped out of the van and started stabbing people randomly. There was a scattering of people.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May has declared the attacks are being treated as another terrorism incident.
“Following updates from police and security officials, I can confirm that the terrible incident in London is being treated as a potential act of terrorism,” Prime Minister Theresa May.
“This is a fast-moving investigation.
“I want to express my huge gratitude to the police and emergency services who are on the scene. Our thoughts are with those who are caught up in these dreadful events.”
Three hospitals within easy walking distance of London Bridge were inundated with casualties and were “locked down” for several hours. Casualties were ferried to at least three other London hospitals.
Britain’s official terror threat had only just been lowered from “critical” after a bombing killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester last month.
As in Manchester, Londoners immediately came together to offer help to those stranded in the capital, joining together on social media with the hashtag #SofaForLondon.
A Twitter user who gave his name as Ben Andrews was typical, writing, “If anyone is caught in London Bridge incident needs place to sleep, we have a spare room 10mins walk away from #London Bridge #sofaforlondon.”
Saturday night revellers fleeing the London Bridge incident reported seeing people with throats cut on the bridge. Sky News quoted a witness as saying a man had stabbed a police officer after the van came to rest.
“We have conveyed our condolences to the UK government through our officials,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.
“Australians should be reassured that our agencies are today, as every day, working relentlessly to keep Australians safe,” Mr Turnbull said.
Labor senator Sam Dastyari, currently in London, described the horrific scene on the bridge, near where he was having dinner.
“London police are amazing. Had us in lockdown then evacuated us past the site. Horrific scenes,” he tweeted.
The latest assault on Britain began a few minutes after 10pm (UK time).
London Ambulance Service sent all available resources to the district.
A witness told the BBC she saw a speeding white van veering into pedestrians. The witness said the van hit five to six people. Reuters television pictures showed dozens of emergency vehicles in the area around London Bridge.
Witnesses have told ABC radio that they saw men leap from the van and randomly stab people on the bridge, with one witness claiming they saw three people with knife wounds and, possibly, their throats cut.
Witness Dario told ABC radio he saw one of the attackers stab a policeman as police confronted the men.
ABC reported further that police were also dealing with a further incident at the nearby Borough Market on the south side of the bridge.
A Reuters reporter near the scene said she saw 10 police cars rushing towards London Bridge.
London’s transport authority said London Bridge rail station had been closed at the request of the police.
On May 22, a suicide bomber killed 22 people at a pop concert by US singer Ariana Grande in Manchester in northern England.
The Manchester bombing was the deadliest attack in Britain since July 2005, when four British Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people in coordinated attacks on London’s transport network.
-with ABC, agencies