Police are investigating a possible hate crime outside a London mosque that left three people injured early Wednesday morning.
A vehicle rammed into pedestrians outside the Al-majlis Al-Hussaini Islamic center in the Cricklewood area of north London, according to the Metropolitan Police, after the occupants of the car got into a confrontation with a large group of mosque attendees.
“Words were exchanged and comments of an Islamophobic nature were allegedly made by the group in the car,” the police said in a statement.
The hit-and-run hospitalized a man in his 50s, who is being treated for a serious leg injury. Two other men suffered minor injuries.
Detectives are now trying to track down the driver of the car and its occupants. The incident is not being treated as terror-related, but police are looking into the possibility that it was an “Islamophobic hate crime,” the BBC reports.
Police have made an appeal for witnesses to come forward with more information. They have also stepped up neighborhood patrols in the area.
“We are treating this incident very seriously and a number of enquiries are underway to trace the car and those involved,” detective sergeant Kelly Schonhage said in a statement.
The confrontation occurred about half an hour past midnight on Wednesday morning, while people were leaving the Islamic center after a lecture. A security team noticed a guest car parked in a private parking lot. The occupants ― three men and a woman in their mid-20s ― were reportedly “behaving anti-socially, drinking and allegedly using drugs,” according to the police statement.
The occupants of the car were asked to leave the parking lot. The car then drove close to the center and its occupants got into a verbal confrontation with people leaving the center.
Witnesses told the BBC they heard the driver “shouting anti-Islamic taunts” at the Islamic center.
Some of the people in the crowd reportedly caused minor damage to the car. The vehicle then took off, colliding with three people as it left.
Chief Superintendent Simon Rose told the BBC it was “extremely fortunate” that no one was killed in the incident.
The Hussaini Association, which had been hosting a 10-day lecture series at the Islamic center, said in a statement that the annual event will continue on as scheduled.
“We are in deep shock at such an attack taking place on our community but remain proud to live in a diverse and tolerant society and as such we remain unintimidated,” the association stated.
The incident occurred as the Muslim worshippers prepared for Ashura, an important Islamic festival of remembrance that begins on Sept. 20.
Dawn Butler, a local member of Parliament, called the incident a “very sad and tragic event” and encouraged witnesses to contact the police.
“There is no room for hate,” she tweeted Wednesday. “Brent is the most diverse constituency in the UK and our diversity is our strength.”
London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said in a tweet that London has a “zero-tolerance approach to hate crime.”
“Places of worship ― for people of all faiths ― must remain safe.”