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Finsbury Park attack: Horror and sympathy among locals

By Cherry Wilson
BBC News, Finsbury Park

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  • Finsbury Park mosque attack
image copyrightAFP

Two large police vans are parked just metres away from a large poster emblazoned with some of Arsenal's most famous stars which stands by the club's shop.

Locals say this is a proudly multicultural area where the biggest rivalry is whether you support Arsenal or their north London rivals Tottenham.

Now the mood here is one of shock as residents stand by the police cordon seeing the aftermath of yet another attack in London.

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They fear the capital is changing.

Mum of four Nicola Senior, 43, is walking back from taking her children to school when she stops to take in the scene.

She said: "I'm frightened. Is there going to be retaliation?

"I am fearful for my kids. Can we go to the park? Can we go to the church?

"It feels like this is happening all the time.

"For me, people want to live here quietly whatever their religion.

"This is such a mixed area. There are so many nationalities. People get on. They accept and respect each other.

"People are in shock. It affects everybody. I'm worried for the safety of all of us."

Jordon Russell, 27, says he was not completely surprised when he heard of the attack.

"It seems like this is never ending. Every week there's something now.

"I know lots of the Muslim community here. They are friendly and integrated. Everybody gets along.

"They're getting persecuted for the actions of a few small-minded people. You can't judge a whole faith on the actions of a few.

"It feels like the old London vibe is changing. Everyone is on edge. I hope things can get back to normal."

image captionNasser Alyarimi says Islamophobia "has increased"

There is a sense among some of the community that an attack like this was inevitable.

Nasser Alyarimi, 18, knows people who worship at the mosque close to where the tragedy took place.

He said: "There's been lots of incidents taking place. Someone I know was thrown down the stairs and had beer poured over her headscarf just because she is Muslim.

"So I'm not surprised that Muslims have been targeted like this. When I'm on a train in my traditional clothes I get lots of looks.

"Islamophobia has definitely increased".

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionPeople have been laying flowers close to the scene

One of those injured in the attack has returned to the scene on crutches and sits alongside friends at one of the cafes open along the high street.

They talk about reaction to the incident and question why it was not widely reported as a terror attack much earlier.

One friend, who asked not to be named, said: "I'm really upset. I feel let down by the government that we are being portrayed as savages that we are not.

"They've portrayed us as if we walk around killing infidels. Just because one or two people believe that it doesn't mean the whole Muslim community does."

Many locals point to the streets and the various ethnicities of people walking around as an indication of the diverse make-up of this area.

"I feel horror and sympathy that this has happened," Professor Paul Gilroy tells me.

"This is the heart of London. The only word you can use is it's a convivial area. People come together. People have suffered here, we've had it all.

"There's a loving, joyful community here that will keep people safe."

Locals stand in the shade close to the police cordon as they take in the aftermath of the attack.

The sweltering heat does not deter leaders from various faiths gathering round to show their solidarity with the Muslim community.

image copyrightReuters
image captionFaith leaders from the area met near the scene of the attack

Mendy Korer, Rabbi of Islington, says: "This is a great community to live in. There's so many different types of nationalities and faith groups. We all understand each other.

"Locally here over the past few years there's been a lot of effort to ensure cohesion. There's been a lot of effort with the council and faith groups to open our doors to really tackle the possibility of people dwindling into misunderstanding.

"An event like this shakes us up. For me this is now about showing solidarity and support.

"We mourn together."

The Bishop of Stepney, Rt Rev Adrian Newman, adds: "When something like this happens there's the human tragedy and also the broader story of a community that feels it is under attack.

"A few faith leaders have come here today to stand shoulder to shoulder and say an attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths."

In some ways it is business as usual in Finsbury Park.

The high street shops are open, mums walk along pushing their babies in prams and large swathes of traffic pass by a busy junction.

image captionJoss hopes public shame will help stop further terror attacks

Joss Bruce, 44, is on her way to work when she stops to take in this scene.

She says: "I keep wondering when it will all end?"

"It's the unpredictability that's become predictable. We can all be vigilant but you can't protect against damaged people that want to take their hatred out on the community.

"I feel like we've got this glorious weather and then there's this dark cloud of terrorism.

"These terror atrocities will bring us all together. It's not just one community that's under attack. We all are.

"I think public shame and condemnation will help stop these attacks."

image copyrightPA
image captionJeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan in Finsbury Park

At the Finsbury Park mosque, a large crowd gathers as worshippers head inside for their daily prayer.

A spontaneous round of applause breaks out as Jeremy Corbyn walks through to visit.

"A man for the people", one man shouts as onlookers scramble to take photos.

One police officer says the mosque is full.

People crowd around the windows and can see the prime minister Theresa May sitting around with leaders from various faith communities.

There are shouts from the crowd when she leaves the mosque and heads into her car.

Kimaai Barker, 32, is standing by the flowers left in tribute outside the building paying tribute to those who have been injured.

"It's ridiculous. I have so many friends from different walks of life. I've been in this mosque and it's beautiful. I felt so much warmth.

"I imagine there's a lot of anger and feeling. I just hope it doesn't come to light.

"I hope everyone comes together."

image captionPrime Minister Theresa May has met local people in Finsbury Park, including community leaders

When asked about the visit from the prime minister and Jeremy Corbyn, she said: "Theresa May has got nothing for us. She doesn't care about the general public.

"Mr Corbyn, through everything he has been here. You see him walking around and every incident that happens he has been very present."

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