A mass stabbing in Reading on Saturday that killed three people and left more injured was now being treated as a “terrorism incident”, police said on Sunday.
The announcement from Counter Terrorism Policing South-East (CTPSE) came after Thames Valley Police, the local force for the Reading area, had initially said the attack was not being treated as terrorism.
Police said they arrested a 25-year-old man at the scene of the attack on Saturday evening. Although the Financial Times has not been able to independently confirm the identity of the suspected attacker, multiple news organisations named him as Khairi Saadallah, a man of Libyan origin.
Saturday’s attack in Reading now becomes the third terrorism incident in the UK in just over six months to have involved mass public stabbing attempts.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled and sickened” by the attack and said: “If there are changes that need to be made to our legal system to stop such events happening again, we will not hesitate to take that action.”
Neil Basu, the UK’s national lead for counterterror policing, said in a statement on Sunday that the incident had been reclassified as terrorism at 8.30am. The incident had begun shortly after 7pm the night before when a man entered Forbury Gardens in central Reading and started stabbing people.
Aerial television pictures on Sunday showed three forensic tents in the gardens, in the centre of the city, 40 miles west of London.
Mr Basu said the incident was “an atrocity” and expressed sympathy to the families who would be mourning loved ones.
Mr Basu paid tribute to the unarmed Thames Valley Police officers who he said had shown “bravery” in detaining a man after the attack. He also praised members of the public who had administered first aid.
“From our inquiries so far, officers have found nothing to suggest that anybody else was involved and at present we are not looking for anybody else in connection with the incident,” Mr Basu said.
The BBC broadcast pictures of armed police officers arriving late on Saturday at a block of flats on Basingstoke Road, Reading. A loud explosion was subsequently heard.
While the motivation for the attack was “far from certain”, Mr Basu said, it was clear it had nothing to do with a Black Lives Matter protest that had taken place in Forbury Gardens and finished several hours before the attack began.
There was “no specific intelligence” to suggest people using crowded spaces were at risk, Mr Basu added.
The incident follows an attack in November at Fishmongers’ Hall in central London in which Usman Khan, who had previously served a prison term for terrorism offences, stabbed two people to death before being shot dead by police.
In February, Sudesh Amman, who had also been released after a sentence for terrorism, stabbed people in Streatham, south London — none fatally — before being shot dead by armed police.
The UK home secretary, Priti Patel, said in the early hours of Sunday that the incident had been a “senseless attack on people simply enjoying a Saturday evening with family and friends”.
“My heart, thoughts and prayers are with all those affected and to the people of Reading, who will be deeply shocked and concerned by this terrible incident,” she said.
Videos posted on social media showed victims surrounded by blood and being helped on the ground by emergency medical workers. Thousands of people had headed to parks across south-east England on Saturday to enjoy sunny, warm weather after several days of windy conditions and thunderstorms.
One witness, Lawrence Wort, told Sky News the park was “pretty full” when the attacker approached a group of about 10 people and began to stab some of them in the neck and under the arms. The attacker then pursued Mr Wort but, after failing to catch him, attacked another group.
Additional reporting by Sebastian Payne