A car crash that injured 11 people Saturday outside London’s popular Natural History Museum was a traffic accident, not a terrorist attack, London police said.
The accident had sparked fears of an attack because it involved a car hitting pedestrians at a crowded site favoured by tourists to the British capital.
A massive police presence descended on the museum district minutes after the accident at 2:20 p.m. as police tried to determine if there was a threat to public safety. It took nearly four hours before they decided it was not terror-related.
Police say one man at the scene, thought to be the driver, was detained. He has not been charged or identified.
Witnesses described a panicky rush to leave the scene, nearby shops were evacuated and the sprawling museum, a favourite site for families with children, closed down early. Police established a large security cordon around the area within minutes, closing some roads, and police helicopters hovered overhead.
London Ambulance Service said nine of the 11 injured people were taken to a hospital for treatment of head or leg injuries. Officials said the injuries are not life-threatening. One woman was led away by a paramedic after Saturday’s crash, draped in a red blanket.
The large, co-ordinated police response to traffic accident reflects the high level of threats Britain has faced this year, including a spate of lethal attacks on London and Manchester, two of which involved vehicles hitting pedestrians. Britain has been on a “severe” terrorist threat level indicating an attack is viewed as highly likely.
The crash took place on a day when the central London museum district is teeming with pedestrians. Photographs showed a dented silver car and a man being pinned to the ground outside the museum. A police forensics officer in blue coveralls took pictures of the crash site.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted that he was in close contact with Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley, who plays a lead role in the police’s counter-terrorism operation.
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) October 7, 2017
Workers in a cafe near the Natural History Museum say they fled the scene in panic.
Marilin Mueller, 20, said she thought at first it was a traffic accident but then “loads of police cars” arrived.
“All of these police came marching down saying, ‘Move, move.’ They said, ‘you need to evacuate,”’ she said.
Dieon Rurora said people were running down the street to get away and some fell.
“It was quite scary,” he said.
The Natural History Museum closed after the crash but its neighbour, the famed Victoria and Albert Museum, remained open.
There’s been a serious incident outside the Museum. We are working w/ @metpoliceuk and will provide an update when we have more information
— NaturalHistoryMuseum (@NHM_London) October 7, 2017
British Prime Minister Theresa May was briefed on the incident. She later thanked the first responders and the public for their help and said her thoughts were with the injured.
Associated Press writer Paisley Dodds contributed