Westminster attack should not be used to demonise Muslims

IN a deadly and brutal assault centred on some of its most iconic landmarks, London this week joined the litany of European cities targeted in recent years in a terror attack claimed by Islamic State.

It was all over in minutes. In a chilling echo of the Bastille Day attack in Nice last year, perpetrator Khalid Masood used the car he was driving to mow down pedestrians, including schoolchildren and tourists, who were on Westminster Bridge.

He then crashed the car into railings and ran into the grounds of the Houses of Parliament.

Masood, armed with two kitchen knives, fatally stabbed a police officer before being shot dead himself.

The Palace of Westminster went into emergency lock down, with politicians, their staff, visitors and journalists sequestered as the security services sought to establish whether further danger was imminent.

The heroic efforts of paramedics fighting to save the lives of the injured were vividly captured on camera - Westminster is blanketed by reporters - and stood in contrast to Masood's callous disregard of life.

Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood has been singled out for praise. He was in New Palace Yard when Masood struck and did what he could to save the life of PC Keith Palmer, the police officer attacked by Masood, giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and attempting to stem the flow of blood from his multiple stab wounds.

It was deadliest terror attack in London since the July 7 bombings in 2005. Including his own, Masood's brazen attack has so far claimed five lives. Fifty people were injured, with 31 receiving hospital treatment. Two of them are in a critical condition and one has life-threatening injuries.

PC Palmer died yards from where Conservative MP Airey Neave, who was shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, was murdered in an INLA car bomb in March 1979.

Whether or not Masood was acting alone - police have made a series of arrests - or directed by Islamic State remains to be seen. It is clear, however, that the perpetrator was inspired by Islamist extremism and a perversion if the Muslim faith.

In that context, it is welcome that Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders last night stood in solidarity outside Westminster Abbey. Sunni Sheikh Khalifa Ezzat, head Imam at the London Central Mosque, stressed that Islam "calls for peace, co-existence and tolerance".

Balancing the demands of security and safety against those of freedom and accessibility is undoubtedly becoming increasingly difficult for the authorities.

It is essential that Masood's actions are not used to demonise ordinary Muslims; the Irish know all too well the experience of being alienated and treated with suspicion in Britain during the Troubles. Wednesday's attack was not Islamic, just as the murder of Airey Neave was not Christian.