At least four people, including a suspected attacker and a police officer, have been confirmed dead in an attack near the British parliament that authorities are treating as a terrorist incident.
“Although we remain open minded to the motive, a full counterterrorism investigation is already underway,” Commander BJ Harrington told a news conference Wednesday in London.
A search is underway to confirm there are no additional attackers, though police officials have indicated the attack was carried out by a lone assailant.
Parliament was placed on lockdown after an attacker stabbed a police officer before being shot by other officers on the parliament grounds. The injured officer later died of his injuries. At least two people were killed and eight others injured when a vehicle struck several people on the nearby Westminster bridge.
A senior police officer told VOA that they believe only one assailant was involved in what appears to have been “a three-staged attack.”
It began with an SUV being driven over Westminster Bridge right by the House of Commons. The SUV mounted the sidewalk and struck several pedestrians.
We were called at approx 2:40pm to reports of an incident at #Westminster Bridge. Being treated as a firearms incident – police on scene
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) March 22, 2017
According to police sources, the vehicle struck some other pedestrians at the perimeter fence near the gates at Old Palace Yard.
“The attacker then rushed the gates and struggled with a police guard who tried to stop him. The assailant stabbed him several times,” the senior police officer said. “Other officers shot the attacker.”
The gunfire was heard at 2:38 p.m. London time inside the House of Commons as lawmakers were debating legislation on pension reform. Eyewitnesses say about half-a-dozen shots were fired.
“It all happened within a minute,” witness Tawhid Tanim told VOA. “I came out of where I work and saw a car had pulled up and I heard I just heard bang bang bang and people running everywhere.”
In Washington, the White House said President Donald Trump has spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May and has been been briefed on the situation in London.
“We obviously condemn today’s attack in Westminster, which the United Kingdom is treating as an act of terrorism, and we applaud the quick response that the British police and their first responders made to the situation,” spokesman Sean Spicer said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it is in close contact with British authorities but that the U.S. domestic security posture remains unchanged.
As the attack unfolded British Prime Minister May was in a voting lobby adjacent to the chamber of the House of Commons. Her plains-clothes bodyguards drew their weapons and one officer put his arm around May as they quickly escorted her out of the House of Commons, according to Andrew Bridgen, a Conservative lawmaker.
Armed police have cordoned off streets within a block of the parliament building and the Westminster bridge has been shut down. Members of Parliament, who were in session when the attacks began, have been evacuated.
If confirmed as a terrorist attack, it would be the first in Britain since May 2013 when an off-duty British Army soldier, Lee Rigby, was hacked to death on a London street by a self-proclaimed jihadist. It is the worst attack at the House of Commons since the IRA bombing in 1979, when Conservative politician Airey Neave, a confidant of Margaret Thatcher, was killed.