London’s Finsbury Park — a closer look

The area of north London where a vehicle ploughed into worshippers who had left a nearby mosque early Monday is vibrant, ethnically diverse and home to a strong Muslim community.

On Fridays, worshippers can be seen heading to and from the several mosques in the area. On days when Arsenal football club hosts home matches at the nearby Emirates stadium, the streets around Finsbury Park’s transit interchange throngs with fans.

As with many areas on the fringes of central London, gentrification has seen the arrival of gourmet coffee shops and refurbished bars. The local MP is Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK’s main opposition Labour Party.

Cynthia Vanzella, a witness to the van attack, describes the area as a mixed community, with people from many different countries and cultures. “We all live perfectly fine,” she said.

“I never saw anything nowhere close to this happen at all. We have a church in one road, an evangelic church in another and a mosque across the road as well. And everybody … lives fine. We never had any problem at all in here.”

‘People are extremely sad’

Another witness, Ratib Al-Sulaman, told CNN: “There’s a lots of people from Nigeria, from Tunisia from Morocco, from the Arab countries. Lots of people as well from like Somalia. It’s a very strong Muslim community in this area and what’s happening today is I think the people must be extremely, extremely sad,” Al-Sulaman said.

Islington’s Seven Sisters Road area — the scene of the attack — is home to at least four mosques, and would have likely been filled with worshipers leaving late-night taraweeh prayers — special prayers during the holy month of Ramadan — and heading back towards the Finsbury Park Underground station.

The Emirates Stadium close by, while further up Seven Sisters Road is the green space of Finsbury Park, which opened in 1869 and gives the area its name.

The largest mosque in the area is Finsbury Park Mosque, an unassuming five-story redbrick building near the station, which opened in 1994.

At one time it was associated with extremism, due to its links with Egyptian-born radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri in the early 2000s.

Al-Masri, who was the mosque’s imam from 1997 to 2003, was later extradited to the United States, where he was convicted of supporting al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, and sentenced to life in prison in 2015.

Since then it has reopened under new management and CNN correspondent Phil Black says over the past 10 years it has “worked very hard at becoming a healthy, active member of the community.”

In 2014, Finsbury Park Mosque became one of only three faith organizations — and the first Muslim organization — to achieve the VISIBLE standard. The standard recognizes independent community organizations that deliver services for local people and build partnerships with other groups. It covers all aspects of running a community building including the procedures and policies used by trustees or management to run the organization.

Appeals for calm

The Muslim Council of Britain, an advocacy group for the country’s Muslim community, said in a Monday tweet that the incident took place near the Muslim Welfare House — on the opposite side of the road — not outside the Finsbury Park Mosque itself.

In a statement, Muslim Welfare House condemned the attack and appealed for calm.

“We have worked very hard over decades to build a peaceful and tolerant community here in Finsbury Park and we totally condemn any act of hate that tries to drive our wonderful community apart,” CEO Toufik Kacimi said. “All of our efforts should be towards getting justice for the victims and ensuring our community stays the diverse, tolerant and welcome place we know it to be.”

Corbyn expressed sympathy in the wake of the vehicle collision.

“I’m totally shocked at the incident at Finsbury Park tonight. I’ve been in touch with the mosques, police and Islington council regarding the incident. My thoughts are with those and the community affected by this awful event,” he said on Twitter.