LONDON — Neighbours of one of the suspected assailants in the London stabbings remembered him as a friendly family man and gym aficionado nicknamed “Abz”, who was seen with the van used in the attack just hours before.
Located in the multi-ethnic area of Barking, the flat where British media reported the man lived was raided by police on Sunday and an AFP photographer saw women in headscarves being taken out — their faces covered.
“We saw him many, many times around here,” said Salahudeen, a 40-year-old driving instructor, who lives near the ground-floor flat in a modern-looking apartment block in the east London suburb.
“He used to be friendly, but suddenly we seen him, he’s changing attitudes, he wasn’t acting as normal. He wasn’t aggressive; he used to chat, but lately he was just ‘hi’ and ‘bye’,” he told AFP.
Salahudeen said the man had two children — a boy and a baby girl.
“One is around three years old and the girl was just born two weeks ago,” he said, adding that he would see him carrying the boy on his shoulders and playing football in the park.
Salahudeen said the man used to wear ankle-length camouflage trousers — similar to the ones seen in a picture of one of the bodies of the three attackers shot dead by police on Saturday night.
The attackers mowed down pedestrians on London Bridge with a white hire van before jumping out and going around bars and restaurants in the area wearing fake suicide vests and stabbing revellers at random.
They were shot dead in a hail of police gunfire.
Police have so far released no details about them, saying only that they know the identities and will release names “as soon as operationally possible”.
They said they had arrested 11 people — five men and six women aged between 19 and 60 — at the flat.
Three police vans and around a dozen officers could be seen outside.
Michael Mimbo (25) who spoke to AFP on his doorstep in a neighbouring apartment complex, said the attacker was “an Asian male” — a term used in Britain to refer to people from or with origins in the Indian subcontinent.
“We call him ‘Abz’ at the local gym,” he said.
“The van he rented was here on Friday. He parked. It was blocking people from coming in. People were beeping their cars saying: ‘Get out of the way’.”
Mimbo said he saw the van again on Saturday at around 7:45pm — just over three hours before the attack.
“The van was racing up the street with another red car behind it,” he said.
Mimbo said he saw armed police swoop on the flat on Sunday in the hours after the attack.
“I heard some shouting at people saying: ‘Run, run’ and they’re screaming ‘get down, get down’.”
“That’s when I heard the first bang, so I came down to investigate what was going on and that’s when I saw armed police everywhere.
“They had guns drawn at one of the suspects and one of them tried to run away. Another bang went off and he was on the floor.
“I thought he was shot or Tasered, there was definitely a Taser over his head,” he said, referring to the electric stun guns used by British police.
“I don’t expect things to happen like that in this area, but who knows what your neighbours are like?” — The Citizen