A major police operation was launched after two suspected terrorists murdered a man in the street in broad daylight.
Witnesses said the victim was hacked to death, with some suggesting his attackers tried to behead him, before charging at police when they arrived on the scene in Woolwich, south-east London. A local MP said the victim was believed to be a soldier. One Whitehall source said the attackers were heard to shout "Allah Akbar". There were also unconfirmed reports that the men filmed the attack.
Prime Minister David Cameron called a meeting of the Government's Cobra crisis committee, describing the incident as "truly shocking". Cobra meetings are crisis response committees set up to co-ordinate the actions of different agencies, including the security services, police and local authorities.
Metropolitan Police Commander Simon Letchford confirmed the two attackers were shot by armed officers. He said in a statement: "At approximately 1420 we were called to reports of an assault in John Wilson Street, Woolwich, where one man was being assaulted by two other men. A number of weapons were reportedly being used in the attack, and this included reports of a firearm. Officers including local Greenwich officers arrived at the scene and shortly after firearms officers arrived on the scene. On their arrival at the scene they found a man, who was later pronounced dead. At this early stage I am unable to provide any further information about the man who has died. Two men, who we believe from early reports to have been carrying weapons, were shot by police. They were taken to separate London hospitals. They are receiving treatment for their injuries.
"I can understand that this incident will cause community concerns and I would like to reiterate that we are investigating what has taken place today. The MPS will investigate the circumstances that led to a man losing his life and the IPCC, as is routine, will investigate the circumstances in which police discharged their weapons. There will continue to be an increased police presence in this area, and the surrounding areas this evening. That presence will continue as long as is needed. I am asking people to remain calm, and avoid unnecessary speculation. I will update you again as soon as I am in a position to do so."
Several witnesses described seeing a "beheading" while another described seeing a man wearing a Help for Heroes T-shirt being attacked with a machete-style knife.
Woolwich and Greenwich MP Nick Raynsford said it was his understanding that one person, a serving soldier, was dead and his two alleged killers were taken to hospital after armed police shot them. London Ambulance Service confirmed a man was found dead at the scene, while two other men were taken to hospital, one of them in a serious condition. London Air Ambulance confirmed that one patient was airlifted from the scene, while another was taken away by road ambulance.
One witness, identified as James, said he and his partner saw two black men attack a young man aged around 20 in a Help for Heroes T-shirt with kitchen knives like he was "a piece of meat". "They were hacking at this poor guy, literally," he told LBC radio. "They were hacking at him, chopping him, cutting him." Fighting back tears, he added: "These two guys were crazed. They were just animals. They dragged him from the pavement and dumped his body in the middle of the road and left his body there." He said that after the "horrendous" attack, the two men, in their 20s, just stood around, waving knives and a gun, even asking people nearby to take pictures of them "as if they wanted to be on TV or something". "They were oblivious to anything, they were more worried about having their photo taken, running up and down the road," he said. "They had no intention of running off or leaving or anything. In my opinion, they were waiting for the police to arrive to be shot by the police. That's the only thing I can think. It's horrendous what they were doing to that guy." Some "brave" women tried to shield the man on the ground from them, he added.
Cheryl Spruce, who lives near the incident, told Sky News a nearby school was put into "lockdown". She said: "The police were telling us to take an alternative route to get to school. There were police everywhere. There were 30 to 40 police officers. Police officers in each road were stopping people from walking anywhere. It's mayhem out there at the moment." Julia Wilders, 51, who lives near the scene, said she had seen one of the attackers run towards police clutching two meat cleavers. She said: "He ran towards police before they could even get out of the car, and it looked like the other one was going to lift the gun up."
The Ministry of Defence said it was urgently looking at the reports that the incident involved a soldier but had no further comment. The incident occurred some 200 yards from the Royal Artillery Barracks, adjacent to Woolwich Common, the historical home of the Royal Artillery. The barracks, also known as the Woolwich station, now houses a number of the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery and independent companies of the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards. Woolwich Common remains a designated military training area.