Men pray after a vehicle collided with pedestrians near a mosque in the Finsbury Park neighborhood of North London, Britain June 19, 2017.
Men pray after a vehicle collided with pedestrians near a mosque in the Finsbury Park neighborhood of North London, Britain June 19, 2017. Reuters/Neil Hall

The Finsbury Park Mosque imam protected the suspect from being beaten by an angry mob. Mohammed Mahmoud stepped in between the crowd and the man who mowed down a group of Muslim worshippers with a van after it was learnt that the suspect, later named Darren Osborne, deliberately tried to kill them.

Just after midnight on Monday, a van ran down a group of pedestrians on Seven Sisters Road in North London, near the Finsbury Park Mosque. The attack left several persons injured and one person, who was being treated on the ground after collapsing prior to the attack, dead. According to witnesses, Osborne, a 47-year-old father of four who was driving the van, calmly told the group, “I’m going to kill Muslims… you deserve it… I did my bit.” His words apparently eliminated any doubt that it was an accident.

Onlookers who rushed to the scene dragged Osborne out of the vehicle and began beating him down on the ground. However, Mahmoud and other mosque officials stepped in and quelled the anger of the group to protect the suspect. He ordered the crowd not to touch Osborne and just hand him over to the police. The crowd obeyed their leader.

“Some tried to give kicks or punches,” Mahmoud was quoted by The Australian as saying. “By God’s grace, we managed to surround him and protect him from any harm. We managed to stop all forms of attack and abuse towards him coming from every angle.”

It wasn’t all his doing, though, Mahmoud said. He also shared credit with his brothers in faith, who helped him shield Osborne from the angry crowd. The 30-year-old imam’s actions have been commended online, with commenters calling him a hero for showing restraint and protecting the man who wished them harm.

Previous reports cited eyewitnesses’ accounts that claimed there were three people seen exiting the vehicle. However, the Metropolitan Police said they believed the suspect acted alone. The Telegraph reports that Osborne’s target may not actually be those leaving the mosque, but the Muslim Welfare House, a sister mosque just yards away.

Osborne didn’t appear to be regretful of his actions. On the contrary, even as he was being handcuffed by the police, he grinned and blew kisses at the crowd, witnesses claimed. He is now being held for terrorism offences and attempted murder.

His family were still in shock over his actions, saying “it still hasn’t really sunk in.” His mother, sister and nephew said in a statement that their “hearts go out to those who’ve been injured.”

Read more: London attack: 1 killed, several hurt after van hits pedestrians near Finsbury Park mosque