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London terrorist attacks: a dispatch from on the ground

The police cordon around the London Bridge area.
(Zack Beauchamp/Vox)

LONDON — Katrina was enjoying her 27th birthday at a bar in central London on Saturday night — until reports of an attack on nearby London Bridge forced her outside.

"We were standing outside one of the exits at Monument Station," she said, referring to an Underground station just north of the bridge. "They were taking out people on stretchers.”

The scene outside the bridge, where a van ran into crowds and killed at least one person, was confused even to those of us standing by the scene of the crime. Multiple ambulances blazed by the press stationed outside as armed security forces roamed the street, whirring helicopters and barking police dogs puncturing the night.

Only a few details have been clarified in the past several hours. The London police have declared the incident on London Bridge, and related reports of stabbings at the foodie destination and shopping area Borough Market, to be “terrorist incidents.” London Ambulance Services confirm that at least 20 people have been taken to the hospital.

But the number of attackers, as well as their identity and motivation, remain unclear. Yet President Donald Trump appears to be certain about what’s happened — and is using it to justify his policy banning people from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States:

What we know so far

When the first reports of the attack on London Bridge broke, I was sitting outside a pub several miles away celebrating a wedding. One of the bartenders came out and ordered us all inside, telling us there had been a terrorist attack on London Bridge and we needed to shelter inside until we knew we were safe.

I obeyed, but shortly after I rushed over to the scene of the attack, where police had cordoned off an area for the press just outside of Monument Station’s exit near the bridge. In the hours since I first arrived there, very little has been confirmed. Official statements tell us that the two incidents, the car attack on London Bridge and the stabbings at Borough Market, are connected — though another reported incident in the area of Vauxhall turned out to be unrelated.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, referred to them as a unitary event in a statement, “the horrific terrorist attack at London Bridge and Borough Market.” He also suggested that the attack was clearly terrorism and not any kind of accident, calling them “a deliberate and cowardly attack on innocent Londoners and visitors to our city.” Police also confirmed that at least one officer opened fire during the incident.

This would be the third terrorist incident in the United Kingdom this year. In late May, a suicide bomber attacked an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, killing 22 concertgoers. And in March, a man drove his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge — an attack that with eerie similarities to Saturday’s incident — and subsequently attempted to storm Parliament, killing six.

But beyond that, it’s difficult to connect Saturday night’s events, as Trump already did, to previous terrorist attacks in the UK. The last two were motivated by Islamist extremism, but we still don’t know whether the London attack fits that pattern.

It’s 2:45 am in London as I’m writing, and the sound of sirens continue to dominate the city’s streets. The casualties are still being counted. And yet the president of the United States is already using the attack to justify a policy banning people from several Muslim nations from entering the United States.