LONDON: At least seven people have been killed and 48 injured after three attackers drove a van into crowds on London Bridge and then went on a stabbing rampage in nearby Borough Market.

Police said armed officers shot and killed all three attackers within minutes of receiving reports of the terrorist attack unfolding in central London. The three men were wearing suicide bomb vests that were later confirmed to be fakes.

Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan police commissioner, said on Sunday morning the incident was under control. “We believe there were three attackers and we believe they are dead,” she said.

She was asked: “Do you know the identity of the attackers” and replied: “I don’t.”

The police’s priority was to “establish more details about these individuals who carried out the attack and the background to it”, Dick said. Detectives also wanted to know whether anyone was working with them in what she described as “a fast-moving investigation”.

Police raided an apartment block in Barking on Sunday morning and arrested five people – four men and a woman – according to witnesses, as part of a dozen arrests in the east London borough.

One neighbour identified the man who lived in the blocl as one of the dead attackers. She described him as in his mid-20s, of Pakistani heritage and living with a wife and infant. Another neighbour said one of the four detained men was Tasered during the arrests.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “The investigation into last night’s horrific attack in London is progressing rapidly as the Metropolitan Police Service continue to piece together exactly what occurred. Officers from the Met’s counter terrorism command have this morning, Sunday 4 June, arrested 12 people in Barking, east London, in connection with last night’s incidents in London Bridge and the Borough Market area. Searches of a number of addresses in Barking are continuing”.

There would be increased police patrols in London, including with armed officers, she said. Dick urged people to remain calm but be “very vigilant”.

In a speech outside 10 Downing Street later on Sunday morning, Theresa May said many of the injured were suffering life-threatening conditions.

The prime minister said the three fatal terror attacks Britain has seen in the past three months – Westminster Bridge, Manchester and now London Bridge – were “not connected by common networks”.

But she warned of a new threat of copycat attackers and announced a review of counter-terrorism legislation including possible longer sentences for terror offences and a campaign against the “evil ideology of Islamist extremism”.

“Enough is enough,” she said. “There is, to be frank, far too much tolerance of extremism in our country,” she said. “So we need to become far more robust at identifying it and stamping it out … That will require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations. We need to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities but as one truly United Kingdom.”

People fled as the attack unfolded in one of the capital’s most popular nightspots, and witnesses have given horrific accounts of the terrorists storming into a pub and restaurant to attack people with foot-long knives. They spoke of desperate attempts by customers to fend off the men with bottles and chairs.

One of those injured was a British Transport police officer, who was stabbed in the head, face and leg. His injuries are serious but not life-threatening.

Five of the nine injured victims admitted to St Thomas’s hospital have been discharged, as has one of the 14 admitted to King’s College hospital, health officials said.

Police said the rampage began at 10.08pm on Saturday and lasted eight minutes, with the three suspects shot dead by officers at 10.16pm.

It is the third deadly attack in less than three months in Britain, where the general election is due to be held on Thursday.

Police investigations continued with considerable intensity on Sunday morning in the Borough Market area, where heavily armed officers were deployed.

The BBC reported that two witnesses had claimed one or more attackers said “this is for Allah” as they rampaged.

Theresa May was among many political leaders expressing their thanks to emergency services after the attack.

The first ambulance crew arrived six minutes after being called and 80 medics, including an advance trauma team from London’s air ambulance, were dispatched. The prime minister chaired an emergency meeting of the government’s crisis committee, Cobra, on Sunday morning and flags were flown at half-mast over Downing Street. Most of the political parties, apart from Ukip, have suspended national campaigning for the day.

The Tories said local work, such as leafleting, would continue, and the suspension would be reviewed during the day.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said his party would also be suspending national campaigning until Sunday evening, after consultation with other parties, but he said: “We will not allow terrorists to derail our democratic process.”

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, also dismissed questions about whether Thursday’s election should go ahead and condemned the terrorists as “barbaric cowards”.

World leaders voiced solidarity with Britain. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said: “We are united beyond all borders in horror and sorrow, but also in determination.” Donald Trump tweeted: “Whatever the United States can do to help out in London and the UK, we will be there.”

The latest attacks involved a clear plot among the three attackers, and will trigger fresh questions for police and the domestic security service MI5. The fear will be that the defences against such attacks are being regularly penetrated, after atrocities in Westminster and Manchester.

Just before 4am on Sunday, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, the Met police’s assistant commissioner Mark Rowley, gave the first official account of the attack.

He said: “Since late yesterday evening the Metropolitan police service has been responding to incidents in the London Bridge and Borough Market areas of south London. We are treating this as a terrorist incident and a full investigation is already under way, led by the Met’s counter-terrorism command.

“At 22:08 yesterday evening we began to receive reports that a vehicle had struck pedestrians on London Bridge. The vehicle continued to drive from London Bridge to Borough Market.

“Armed officers responded very quickly and bravely, confronting three male suspects who were shot and killed in Borough Market. The suspects had been confronted and shot by the police within eight minutes of the first call. The suspects were wearing what looked like explosive vests but these were later established to be hoaxes.”

One photograph provided to the Guardian showed a man on the ground after being shot by police, apparently with canisters strapped to his body. Gabrielle Sciotto, a documentary-maker who took the picture, said he saw people running away from Borough Market.

“It was dark, but I could see three men,” he said. “They were about 20 metres away. It was quite confusing – it took me a few seconds to work out what was going on. There was one policeman there, inside Borough Market,” he said. “He was trying to scare them away. They ran towards me because the police officer was trying to chase them.”

The men ran out of Borough Market and turned left into Stoney Street towards the Wheatsheaf pub. “Suddenly lots and lots of police came from the other direction” and armed officers started yelling at the men, Sciotto said. “There was a lot of shouting. ‘Stop, stop, get on the floor,’ stuff like that. Then the police shot them.”

Gerard Vowls, 47, said he had been watching the Champions League final at the Ship pub in Borough. He was at the start of the south side of London Bridge and said he saw a woman being stabbed by three men in their 30s.

Vowls said he threw chairs, glasses and bottles at the attackers in an attempt to stop them. “They kept coming to try to stab me ... they were stabbing everyone. Evil, evil people.”

Another witness, Ben, told the BBC what he saw outside Borough tube station. “I saw a man in red with quite a large blade,” he said. “I am guessing 10 inches. He was stabbing a man, maybe three times, fairly calmly. It looked like the man maybe had been trying to intervene but there wasn’t much he could do. He was stabbed quite coldly and slumped to the ground.”

May praised the emergency services and said: “Our thoughts are with those who are caught up in these dreadful events.”

Corbyn said on Twitter: “Brutal and shocking incidents reported in London. My thoughts are with the victims and their families. Thank you to the emergency services.”

Emergency services treated people lying injured at the junction of Thrale and Southwark Streets, near Borough Market. One woman was taken away on a stretcher while others sat injured on the ground, with people crying and shouting around them.

Members of the public were led up Southwark Street away from Southwark Bridge Road, and police officers shouted orders for people to run. Many were in tears, with friends supporting each other and carrying people up the road. Police entered bars and warned those inside to get down.

One witness, named as Eric, was on the south side of London Bridge when he saw a van on the wrong side of the road. He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “It veered to the right and people were trying to run away from it.” When it stopped, he said, three people got out and he thought they were going to help the people who had been hit.

“But the three people literally started kicking them, punching them, and took out knives. It was a rampage really,” he said. The three men ran off towards the nearby bars and restaurants.

Lara Al-Ostta said she was with a friend at the Old Thameside Inn underneath London Bridge when people rushed into the pub and told everyone to run away because “people are stabbing each other”.

Thomas Daly, who was also watching the Champions League final in the Wheatsheaf, said: “People were saying there had been a stabbing at Borough Market and they locked us in. We sat down again and some minutes later people started coming into the bar and people were getting hysterical.

“A lot of people were streaming through the rear exit and we went outside and heard gunshots. I heard at least two gunshots, and at that point the people who were trying to get out the back entrance came back inside.”

Fears that a suspect could still be at large led the police to issue crisis instructions to the public, to “run, hide, tell” if caught up in an incident.

The attackers were shot by police from an armed response vehicle. The number of ARVs was increased across Britain after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris but British police remain largely unarmed, unlike most of their counterparts across the world.

This attack represents another change in terrorist tactics.

The Westminster attack on 22 March used a vehicle and a knife as weapons but involved one man who planned the assault on his own. Four people including a police officer died, as well as the attacker.

A suicide bomber struck at the Manchester Arena on 22 May as people left a pop concert where children and young people were among the 22 killed and 116 injured.

In the London Bridge attack a group of men used a vehicle and knives as weapons.

In addition to the three atrocities, police have disrupted five attack plots – four in London and one in Birmingham – which are claimed to have been at an advanced stage.

The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, which sets the terrorism threat level, was assessing the impact of the London Bridge and other incidents on Britain’s state of alert. Counter-terrorism police are involved in the investigation.

Donald Trump was briefed by US security officials about the attack and counter-terrorism officials in western countries were assessing what the latest incidents told them about terrorist tactics.

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