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7 Killed, Dozens Wounded In London Bridge Terrorist Attacks

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The terrorists struck in the heart of London as people were enjoying their Saturday night out.

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MARK ROWLEY: At eight minutes past 10 last night, we began to receive reports that a vehicle had struck pedestrians on London Bridge.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mark Rowley of the London Police said a van tore across the bridge, and three assailants then went on a stabbing spree in a nearby area of bars and restaurants. Seven people are dead. Dozens more are injured. The three attackers were shot and killed within eight minutes of the first alarm. They were wearing fake suicide vests. Police have arrested 12 people so far in raids. This morning, outside 10 Downing St., Prime Minister Theresa May said that Thursday's British elections will go forward regardless. And she also addressed recent attacks at a concert two weeks ago in Manchester and on London's Westminster Bridge in March.

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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: In terms of their planning and execution, the recent attacks are not connected. But we believe we are experiencing a new trend in the threat we face, as terrorism breeds terrorism. And perpetrators are inspired to attack not only on the basis of carefully constructed plots after years of planning and training and not even as lone attackers radicalized online but by copying one another and often using the crudest of means of attack.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London, and he joins us now.

Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You were on the scene last night. Tell us a little bit more about what happened.

LANGFITT: Well, as Theresa May was pointing out, this actually resembles the attack that we covered - really, it was about nine weeks ago. It's hard to imagine that. In this case, a van jumped up on the sidewalk, mowed people down on London Bridge, just as a man did back in March on Westminster Bridge near Big Ben. And then these three assailants went running, basically through the streets of an area called Borough Market. At least 48 people have been injured, and police were among them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you describe the area of London where this occurred?

LANGFITT: Yeah. It's an area that anybody who's a tourist would actually know quite well, I think. It is just upstream from Tower Bridge. It is just downstream from St. Paul's Cathedral and of course, the Tate Modern art gallery - art museum. It's next to the Shard, which is the one sort of main signature skyscraper in the city.

And the area where people were that night is called Borough Market. It's a wonderful nightlife area. It's under a train trestle, so often during the days, like on a Saturday during the day, lots of food stalls. I, frankly, take the family there a lot. They really enjoy it. And so it's this huge section of the south bank of the Thames that has become a big area for tourism and nightlife. And it's a lovely place to go.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And obviously very busy on a Saturday night. Have police named the attackers or cited a motive?

LANGFITT: They've not. I mean, as Theresa May says, she believes that this is an Islamist-motivated attack, but she hasn't been more specific than that. And this morning, there actually were several arrests as police made raids in the Barking community here in London. And so what often happens here is - sadly, Lulu, it's become very routine now - there is an attack, and then soon after the attack, the police go and do raids and try to figure out who, if anyone else, was involved.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. What were witnesses saying last night when you were talking to them?

LANGFITT: Well, I got to the cordon - I don't know - maybe 1:30, 2 o'clock in the morning, and I was there for a couple of hours. And I met a guy named Martin Brennan (ph). This was right at the foot of the Shard, this big skyscraper. He's a retiree from Surrey. It's a county outside of the city. He was in town last night celebrating with friends - a birthday party a restaurant. He heard a lot of commotion outside, and let's - we can let him describe what happened next.

MARTIN BRENNAN: One of our companions who was out for a cigarette came in as said, there's a couple lads after being stabbed out there. And then people started running in from the street into the restaurant. We thought it was a fight.

LANGFITT: And so a lot of people in Borough Market last night - they - it's very crowded. It's lots going on. They didn't actually know that this was a targeted attack. There was a lot of confusion in this restaurant where Mr. Brennan was. People eventually carried two men in and laid them on the floor. There was an off-duty cop in the restaurant. He called the paramedics. They pulled down the shutters and locked everyone inside, and the restaurant-goers began to try to help the victims. Here's what Martin Brennan says.

BRENNAN: People tried to stem the blood with rolls of paper towel.

LANGFITT: How much...

BRENNAN: (Unintelligible) badly, and they were screaming in pain.

LANGFITT: How much blood was there?

BRENNAN: So much so that when we were eventually evacuated out of the place, the outside of that door was red. You couldn't see the white tile.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That sounds absolutely terrifying. Frank, as we heard from the prime minister, this is the third terrorist attack in the country in a little over two months, the second in London. How are people taking this?

LANGFITT: You know, I'm still trying to get my head around that, Lulu. And I think it's going to be interesting to see how today and rush hour on Monday plays out. As I was heading home about 4 o'clock in the morning last night, I actually went through sections of town where people were still out partying as though nothing had happened. Of course, everybody has smartphones, young people, so they knew this was going on. But it didn't seem to have affected them.

When I walked in this morning up Regent Street to our office, people were out in cafes. That said, it feels different than the first attack in March, and that's because it's been sort of this repetition. Martin Brennan, the fellow that I was talking to last night - he was really unnerved by this and said he would think twice about coming back into London anytime soon. He also said he was kind of coming to grips with what, as I think Theresa May was hitting on, maybe a new reality for this city. Here's how Mr. Brennan put it.

BRENNAN: It's terrible. It's absolutely terrible. You can't - you don't know now what's going to happen next. You don't know how safe you are walking down the street. But, you know, you have to do it. You have to do it. You can't give in.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: National elections are just a few days away. Any sense of how this might affect the race?

LANGFITT: That's a tricky one. In the sense that Theresa May has run on this mantra of strong and stable leadership - she's the Tory leader, the prime minister of the country - she would be the one seen as the toughest on terrorism. The fact that you have three attacks in such a short period of time clearly undermines that image.

That said, there's nobody to the right of her politically who's viable in this race, who's able to sort of take voters who want an even tougher approach on terrorism. So Jeremy Corbyn - he's the Labour leader - he's actually been gaining ground in the polls a lot just in the last couple of weeks by focusing on social issues and social welfare. And he said today he's going to keep focusing on that, and he's going to keep it a positive campaign.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. NPR's Frank Langfitt in London, thank you so much.

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