Items filtered by date: Saturday, 03 June 2017

Foreign fighters killed in battle for Philippine city

 

-http://www.aljazeera.com/

The Philippine military chief says three Malaysians, an Indonesian, and possibly Arab fighters have been killed in a southern city that armed groups planned to burn entirely in an audacious plot to project the lethal influence of ISIL.

General Eduardo Ano told the Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday that the military had made advances in containing the week-long siege of Marawi city. He said a top Filipino fighter is believed to have been killed and the leader of the attack was wounded.

Ano said the group plotted to set Marawi ablaze and kill as many Christians in nearby Iligan city on Ramadan to mimic the violence seen by the world in Syria and Iraq.

The army insists the drawn-out fight is not a true sign of the group's strength, and the military has held back to spare civilians' lives.

"They are weak," Ano said of the gunmen, speaking at a hospital where wounded soldiers were being treated. "It's just a matter of time for us to clear them from all their hiding places."

 
Philippine army says it's close to ending Marawi siege

As of Tuesday morning, he said the military working house-by-house had cleared 70 percent of the city and the remaining fighters were isolated.

Still, the fighters have turned out to be remarkably well-armed and resilient.

Attack helicopters were streaking low over Marawi on Monday, firing rockets at hideouts, as heavily armed soldiers went house to house.

The gunmen have held the Philippine army at bay, burning buildings, taking at least a dozen hostages and sending tens of thousands of residents fleeing.

Ano said Tuesday that the commander, Isnilon Hapilon, is still hiding somewhere in the city. Authorities were working to confirm that another leader had been killed.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the south through mid-July after the fighters went on a deadly rampage in Marawi last week following an unsuccessful military raid to capture Hapilon.

In recent years, small armed groups in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have begun unifying under the banner of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Jose Calida, the top Philippine prosecutor, said last week that the violence on the large southern island of Mindanao "is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens".

Rohan Gunaratna, a security expert at Singapore's S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said ISIL and the smaller regional groups are working together to show their strength and declare a Philippine province part of the caliphate that ISIL says it created in the Middle East.

READ MORE: Philippines - Hundreds trapped in battle for Marawi 

He said the fighting in Marawi, along with smaller battles elsewhere in the southern Philippines, may be precursors to declaring a province, which would be "a huge success for the terrorists".

Last week, two suicide bombings in Jakarta, Indonesia, killed three police officers, an attack claimed by ISIL. While Indonesia has been battling local fighters since 2002, the rise of ISIL has breathed new life into those networks and raised concern about the risk of Indonesian fighters returning home from the Middle East.

Analysts have warned that as ISIL is weakened in Syria and Iraq, battered by years of American-led attacks, Mindanao could become a focal point for regional fighters.

 
Philippines: Civilians trapped in Marawi as battle against ISIL-linked fighters intensifies

Southeast Asian fighters fleeing the Middle East "could look to Mindanao to provide temporary refuge as they work their way home", said a report late last year by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, predicting a high risk of regional violence.

Marawi is regarded as the heartland of the Islamic faith on Mindanao island.

Muslim rebels have been waging a separatist rebellion in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation for decades. The largest armed group dropped its secessionist demands in 1996, when it signed an autonomy deal with the Philippine government. Amid continuing poverty and other social ills, restiveness among minority Muslims has continued.

Hapilon is an Islamic preacher and former commander of the Abu Sayyaf group who pledged allegiance to ISIL in 2014. He now heads an alliance of at least 10 smaller groups, including the Maute.

Acmad Aliponto, a 56-year-old court sheriff who decided not to flee the city, said while the fighters were well-armed, he believes they have little local support, and that the recent violence could turn more people against them.

"In the end their relatives and everyday people may be the ones who will kill them," he said. "Look at what they did. So many were affected."

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Seizing of Marawi by Islamist militants a wake-up call for SEA

MARAWI CITY, Philippines - At the beginning of the battle that has raged for the past 12 days in Marawi City at the southern end of the Philippines, dozens of Islamist militants stormed its prison, overwhelming the guards.

"They said 'surrender the Christians'," said Faridah P. Ali, an assistant director of the regional prison authority. "We only had one Christian staff member so we put him with the inmates so he wouldn't be noticed,” he said.

Fighters from the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS), menaced the guards and shouted at prisoners: but no one gave up the Christian man. "When they freed the inmates, he got free," said Ali.

It was a brief moment of cheer, but over the next few hours the militants took control of most of the city, attacked the police station and stole weapons and ammunition, and set up roadblocks and positioned snipers on buildings at key approaches. The assault has already led to the death of almost 180 people and the vast majority of Marawi's population of about 200,000 has fled.

The seizing of the city by Maute and its allies on the island of Mindanao is the biggest warning yet that the Islamic State is building a base in Southeast Asia and bringing the brutal tactics seen in Iraq and Syria in recent years to the region.

Defense and other government officials from within the region told Reuters evidence is mounting that this was a sophisticated plot to bring forces from different groups who support the Islamic State together to take control of Marawi.

The presence of foreigners - intelligence sources say the fighters have included militants from as far away as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Chechnya and Morocco - alongside locals in Marawi, has particularly alarmed security officials.

For some time, governments in Southeast Asia have been worried about what happens when battle-hardened Islamic State fighters from their countries return home as the group loses ground in the Middle East, and now they have added concerns about the region becoming a magnet for foreign jihadis.

"If we do nothing, they get a foothold in this region," said Hishammuddin Hussein, the defense minister of neighboring Malaysia.

Defense and military officials in the Philippines said that all four of the country’s pro-Islamic State groups sent fighters to Marawi with the intention of establishing the city as a Southeast Asian ‘wilayat’ – or governorate - for the radical group.

Mindanao - roiled for decades by Islamic separatists, communist rebels, and warlords – was fertile ground for Islamic State's ideology to take root. This is the one region in this largely Catholic country to have a significant Muslim minority and Marawi itself is predominantly Muslim.

It is difficult for governments to prevent militants from getting to Mindanao from countries like Malaysia and Indonesia through waters that have often been lawless and plagued by pirates.

The Combating Terrorism Center, a West Point, New York-based think tank, said in a report this week that Islamic State is leveraging militant groups in Southeast Asia to solidify and expand its presence in the region. The key will be how well it manages relations with the region’s jihadi old guard, CTC said.

Commander fired

The Maute group's attack is the biggest challenge faced by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte since coming to power last June. He has declared martial law in Mindanao, which is his political base.

His defense forces were caught off guard by the assault and have had difficulty in regaining control of the city - on Saturday they were still struggling to wipe out pockets of resistance.

On Monday, Brigadier-General Nixon Fortes, the commander of the army brigade in Marawi, was sacked.

An army spokesman said this was unrelated to the battle. But a military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Friday that Fortes was dismissed because not all his forces were in the city when the rebels began their rampage, even though military intelligence had indicated that Islamist militants were amassing there.

The assault came just months after security forces attacked the mountain lair of Isnilon Hapilon, a long-time leader of Abu Sayyaf, or "Father of the Sword", a notorious Islamist militant group known for kidnapping. He swore allegiance to Islamic State in 2014, and quickly got other groups to join him. Most important among them was the Maute group, run by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute from a well-known family in Marawi. In a video that surfaced last June, a Syria-based leader of the group urged followers in the region to join Hapilon if they could not travel to the Middle East. Hapilon was named IS leader in Southeast Asia last year. The Philippines military said Hapilon was likely wounded in the raids but managed to escape to Marawi, where he joined up with the Maute group. According to a statement on a social media group used by Maute fighters, the group wants to cleanse Marawi of Christians, Shi’ite Muslims, and polytheists – who believe in more than one God. It also wants to ban betting, karaoke and so-called “relationship dating.”

Mountain lairs

Some officials said Philippines security forces became complacent about the threat from IS after the January raids.

"We did not notice they have slipped into Marawi because we are focusing on their mountain lairs," Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters.

Over the past few months, Philippine and Indonesian intelligence sources said, Hapilon's forces were swelled by foreign fighters and new recruits within Marawi. Many of the outsiders came to Marawi using the cover of an Islamic prayer festival in the city last month, said Philippines military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera.

Lorenzana said that Hapilon brought 50-100 fighters to join Maute's 250-300 men, while two other groups, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines, together brought at least 40 militants with them.

On May 23, four days before the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, they launched their attack when Philippine forces made an abortive attempt to capture Hapilon inside Marawi.

After the military retreated in the face of a phalanx of armed guards, about 400 militants quickly fanned out across the city, riding trucks mounted with 50-caliber machine guns and armed with rocket-propelled grenades and high-powered rifles.

Within hours, they attacked the jail and nearby police station, seizing weapons and ammunition, according to accounts from residents.

The Dansalan College, a Protestant institution, and the Catholic Cathedral of Maria Auxiliadora, were both razed, and a priest and about a dozen other parishioners captured. They remain hostages.

A Shi'ite mosque was also destroyed, and a statue of Jose Rizal, the Philippines hero of the uprising against Spanish rule, was beheaded.

Snipers on rooftops

Herrera said the attack had the hallmarks of a professional military operation. "There was a huge, grand plan to seize the whole of Marawi," he said. After the initial battle, IS flags flew across the city and masked fighters roamed the streets proclaiming Marawi was theirs, using loud-hailers to urge residents to join them and handing out weapons to those who took up the offer, according to residents. The military brought in helicopters to fire rockets at militant positions as ground troops began to retake key bridges and buildings, though some residents this has also led to the deaths of civilians.

"ISIS people were running on the street, running away from them. They were bombing them in the street (but) it hit our house and the mosque. Many other houses too," said Amerah Dagalangit, a pregnant 29-year-old in an evacuation center near Marawi.

"Many people died when the bomb exploded," she said, adding that a Muslim priest and children were among the victims.

Military officials said they had not received any report of the incident. Reuters could not independently verify the account.

The military has said 20 civilians have been killed in the fighting and that all were at the hands of the militants. It also says 120 rebels and 38 members of the security forces have been killed, including 10 soldiers who died from friendly fire in an airstrike.

‘People will get killed’

Officials in neighboring Indonesia worry that even if the Filipinos successfully take back Marawi in coming days, the threat will still remain high.

“We worry they will come over here,” said one Indonesian counter-terrorism official, noting that Mindanao wasn’t very far from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

More than 2,000 people remain trapped in the center of Marawi, with no electricity and little food and water. Some are pinned down by the crossfire between the military and the militants, while others fear they will be intercepted by the militants as they flee, according to residents.

The bodies of eight laborers who had been shot in the head were found in a ravine outside Marawi last Sunday. The police said they had been stopped by the militants while escaping the city.

There will most likely be more civilian casualties in retaking the city, the military said.

"We are expecting that people will get starved, people will get hurt, people will get killed," said Herrera, the military spokesman. "In these types of operations, you can't get 100 per cent no collateral damage."  Reuters

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Security video shows methodical gunman in Resorts World attack

MANILA, Philippines — Security footage shows the man responsible for one of the Philippine capital’s deadliest attacks in years casually exiting a taxi just after midnight and walking calmly into a vast entertainment and gambling complex like any other visitor.

Shortly afterward, he dons a black ski mask, slips on an ammunition vest and pulls an M4 carbine assault rifle out of his backpack.

What follows borders on the surreal: a slow-motion arson attack and robbery so methodical and unhurried, the gunman appears to walk much of the way — even as he exchanges fire with a security guard and flees, slightly wounded, up a stairwell.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the early Friday rampage at the Resorts World Manila complex. At least 37 patrons and employees died, mostly from smoke inhalation as they tried to hide, while the gunman fled to an adjoining hotel and reportedly killed himself.

The video footage shown to reporters Saturday, though, bolsters the government’s case that this was a botched robbery by a lone attacker with no known link to terrorism. Police said that’s exactly why they wanted to release it.

In his first remarks on the assault, President Rodrigo Duterte said that the attacker was simply “crazy.” He questioned what the gunman was going to do with the $2 million horde of poker chips he had tried to haul away. He also discounted any links to the Islamic State group, saying this “is not the work of ISIS. The work of the ISIS is more cruel and brutal.”

Despite some initially contradictory accounts of the chaos, what is known so far appears to back up that claim.

Although the attacker was well armed — Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said he was carrying 90 bullets in three rifle clips — there are no confirmed reports that he shot any civilians. Instead, he fired into the ceilings, scattering panicked crowds, some of whom jumped out windows to escape what they believed to be a terror attack.

Albayalde said the security footage also indicated a clear motive. The gunman headed straight for a storage room in the back of the casino that contained poker chips. He is seen shooting through several thick white doors, breaking down one of them at 12:18 a.m. Friday — only 11 minutes after his arrival.

More than 12,000 people were in the complex at the time; most were successfully evacuated.

“He could have shot everybody there,” Albayalde added. “He could have killed hundreds of people inside that establishment. But he did not shoot anybody … he just burned the casino. Burning the casino could be a diversionary tactic for his escape.”

By nightfall Saturday, the gunman’s identity was still unknown. The taxi driver who dropped him off told police said his passenger spoke fluent Tagalog and appeared normal during the ride. The gunman asked him just one thing: to change the radio channel to the news instead of music, Albayalde said.

“All indications … point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual,” said presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella.

Philippine National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa also said the attack did not appear to be terrorism, but he cautioned that authorities still know very little about the attacker.

“What if we establish the identity and there are leads that will lead toward terrorism? So our findings, our conclusion, will possibly change,” he told DZMM radio.

The Philippines has faced Muslim insurgencies for decades, though much of the violence has occurred in the troubled south. Many in Manila feared Friday’s attack was linked to ongoing battles with militants aligned with the Islamic State group in the southern Philippine city of Marawi. The fighting has placed the country on edge and prompted Duterte to declare martial law across the south.

IS carried two statements claiming responsibility for the attack, but they contained discrepancies. One mentioned fighters, the other just one fighter — a person who goes by the nom de guerre “Brother Abu al-Kheir al-Arkhabili.” One of the statements also said the attacker “died as a martyr” — which would not make sense if he shot himself in an evacuated hotel room at the end of the night, as the police claim. Suicide is forbidden in Islam.

Armeen Gomez, chief security officer at Resorts World, said witnesses at the scene had testified to seeing multiple assailants. But he believes their accounts were likely confused by the chaos and panic. Beyond the unidentified gunman, the only other people armed in the images released Saturday were the security forces clearing the area.

The footage shows the attacker entering an elevator with two women behind him, shortly after arrival. He pulls a mask down across his face as he walks out, and minutes later, he strolls into a part of the mall with round dining tables, bypassing the metal detector.

As a security officer runs after him, he whips a rifle out of his backpack, sending panicked throngs fleeing. This was the moment people began screaming, “ISIS! ISIS!” Gomez said.

Pushing deeper into the complex, the gunman enters the casino zone. A shocked man behind a counter ducks as the attacker fires into the air. He then begins dousing gambling tables and slot machines, igniting each with a lighter.

Luchie Arguelles, 61, was playing slots just after midnight when she saw the man enter. “(He was) all dressed in black, burly, everything was covered, you can’t even see his eyes,” said Arguelles, who was about 9 meters (30 feet) away. She said he was holding two small bottles.

“I said, ‘He’s going to burn that table, he’s going to douse it,'” before she grabbed her husband’s hand and started running.

In the footage’s last scenes, the gunman is seen exchanging fire with one of the hotel’s security officers at a stairwell doorway. Gomez said the gunman was shot in the leg, but after walking up a couple steps, the assailant walks back down to casually shut the door — almost as if he had left it open by mistake.

Later on the fifth floor, he sets part of a red hallway carpet ablaze, filling the corridor with smoke. Hotel security had already evacuated guests.

At 1:46 a.m., the gunman kicks in the door of Room 501 and goes inside. Police soon arrive, aiming the white lights on their weapons through the smoke-filled hall.

The attacker, they say, set a final fire in the room and was found dead with a gunshot wound to the mouth.

 

Link to video and original article: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/902463/security-video-shows-methodical-gunman-in-resorts-world-attack

 
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Marawi evacuees reach Cebu

The war in Marawi City rudely interrupted the vacations of Alaina Macabato and Salma Abdulla, Muslims and natives of Marawi who teach at the Madrasah Education Program in a public school in Cebu City.

It cut short a phone conversation between Pfc. Kevin Sisiban and his 94-year-old grandfather in Cotabato City, their last.

It cost Somaya Palao and her family P8,000 for a normally two-hour trip from Marawi to Iligan City that took eight hours.

Their stories were now among countless emerging from the siege of Marawi by Islamic State followers and the ongoing operation by the armed forces to finish them off.

Macabato and Palao went to Marawi to celebrate Ramadan there when the terrorists struck. They are now among 62 people who were rescued in Marawi and brought to Cebu City from Iligan City.

Safety

It was the call of duty that brought Sisiban, an Army soldier, to Marawi where he became one of the casualties of “friendly fire.”

On the day of her return to Cebu City, Macabato sat quietly at the back of a city-owned bus that ferried the 62 evacuees from the city port where a ship brought them from Iligan.

“It is only now that we feel safe,” said the 24-year-old teacher at the Zapatera Elementary School in Cebu City.

Macabato recalled the day the terrorists, belonging to Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group, struck in Marawi City.

The teacher and a female friend were at the public market to buy fish and vegetables on May 23 when they heard people talk about fighting between the terrorists and soldiers in the Marawi village of Basak Malutlut.

Macabato shrugged off the news, thinking the fighting would not reach the village of Naga, where the market was located.

As Macabato and her friend checked out clothes being sold at the market, they heard gunfire which meant the terrorists had come to Naga, just minutes from her home in the village of Mapandi.

Macabato wanted to go home immediately but was told it was not safe because the terrorists were already in the area.

Good Samaritan

“Luckily, there was a woman who lived nearby and allowed us to stay in her house until it was safe to leave,” she said.

Macabato left the Good Samaritan’s home in the afternoon but found no ride to flee. She ran to her house instead.

As she got inside her house in Mapandi, terrorists clad in all black clothes passed by.

“Good thing that we locked our house immediately,” she said.

The next day, Macabato and her family fled their home in Mapandi to the town of Balo-i in Lanao del Norte.

Macabato and her family walked from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. as no transportation was available anymore.

They had only the clothes they were wearing, bringing nothing as they thought the war would not last long.

Another teacher, Abdulla, was also trapped in Marawi where she had also planned to spend her vacation for Ramadan.

Palao, 47 and a native of Boganga village in Marawi, was in the same bus as Macabato and Abdulla that took them to Cebu City.

Ancestral home gone

Teary-eyed after disembarking from the ship that brought them out of Iligan, Palao said it was the first time in days that she felt safe.

Palao, her 9-month-old grandson, six children and five grandchildren had wanted to vacation in Marawi.

Recalling her ordeal in Marawi drove Palao to tears. She grieved for an ancestral house damaged by air strikes.

“It is sad to see what has happened to our city,” she said, finding time to narrate her ordeal while waiting for a vessel to Catbalogan where she runs a store.

Sisiban had been hit in the errant air strike that killed 11 soldiers but gathered enough strength to call his grandfather Primitivo in Cotabato City.

“I’ve been hit” were Kevin’s words during the phone call, his last to the 94-year-old Primitivo who raised the soldier.—MICHELLE JOY L. PADAYHAG, NICO ALCONABA, RICHEL V. UMEL AND JULIE S. ALIPALA

 

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Koko tells Lopez: No room for illegitimate traders in Duterte foreign trips

By: Jeannette I. Andrade - Reporter / @jiandradeINQPhilippine Daily Inquirer / 03:39 PM June 03, 2017

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III called on trade secretary Ramon Lopez to ensure that only legitimate traders are part of business delegations brought along by President Rodrigo Duterte to foreign trips.

Pimentel stressed that prospective foreign investors should not only be protected from corruption but also from fraud and deceit.

In a statement, the senate president urged the DTI secretary to “accredit only honest-to-goodness Philippine businesses in the delegations abroad” of Mr. Duterte considering the foreign trips are intended both to corner big ticket investments and forge closer relations.

Pimentel was referring to Mr. Duterte’s assurance to potential investors from Russia that there would be no corruption in their dealings with his administration.

Lopez and the business delegation as well as other government officials stayed behind in Moscow when the President had to rush back to the Philippines because of the situation in Marawi City.

The visit to Russia resulted in the signing of ten agreements, including those on defense cooperation, tourism promotions, agricultural enhancement, transportation technology, international film and art festivals, trade and investments, and on industry development.

Pimentel said that Mr. Duterte has vowed to pursue a drug-free country and a corrupt-free government and even offered to personally take care of complaints aired by foreign businessmen in their dealings here.

“We should also provide them with a fraud-free investment experience in the country,” he stressed.

Apart from securing deals in Russia, Mr. Duterte’s past visits has resulted in US$15-billion pledge for infrastructure from the Chinese government and a US$3-billion credit facility from the Bank of China. Japan also offered US$ 8.1-billion worth of loans and private investments.

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London attack: Fatalities after vehicle and stabbing incidents

-BBC News

 

More than one person has died in a terrorist incident in central London which is still ongoing, the Metropolitan Police has said.

Police and ambulances were alerted to reports a van hit people on London Bridge shortly after 22:00 BST.

Armed officers went to nearby Borough Market where they were responding to reports of stabbings in the area which is known for its restaurants and bars.

London Ambulance Service said at least 20 people have been taken to hospital.

A number of people were treated at the scene for less serious injuries. 

Prime Minister Theresa May described the incidents as "dreadful events" and will chair a meeting of the government's Cobra emergency committee later.

The Metropolitan Police tweeted: "At 0025hrs 4/6/17 the incidents at #LondonBridge & #BoroughMarket were declared as terrorist incidents."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was an "horrific terrorist attack".

He added: "The situation is still unfolding and I would ask all Londoners and visitors to our city to remain calm and vigilant. 

"We don't yet know the full details, but this was a deliberate and cowardly attack on innocent Londoners and visitors to our city enjoying their Saturday night. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms."

Eyewitnesses told BBC home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds they saw between two and four people getting out of the van after the attack on the bridge and running towards Borough Market.

Gunshots were later heard in the area while one social media user has posted a photograph appearing to show one of the attackers, with what seemed to be canisters strapped to his body lying on the ground.

Man on ground at Borough MarketImage copyrightGABRIELE SCIOTTO

The attack comes almost two weeks after 22 people died in a suicide bombing at a concert in Manchester. 

In March, five people died in London when a car was driven at pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and a police officer was stabbed outside Parliament.

'Van hit five people'

The BBC's Tom Symonds said a security guard who oversees a number of pubs in the London Bridge area said he saw four people stabbed by three attackers. 

 
Media caption"Get down" - police enter bar at London Bridge

BBC reporter Holly Jones, who was on the bridge at the time of the attack, said a van driven by a man was "probably travelling at about 50 miles an hour" before it hit a number of people.

"He swerved right round me and then hit about five or six people. He hit about two people in front of me and then three behind," Ms Jones told the BBC News Channel.

 
Media captionBBC reporter Holly Jones saw the incident

Five or six people were being treated for injuries after the vehicle mounted the pavement and hit them, she said.

"I'd say there are about four severely injured people. They all have paramedics assisting them at the moment."

She said the van came from the direction of central London and headed towards the south side of the river.

Ms Jones later reported seeing a man being arrested by police. She said he was handcuffed and had his shirt off. 

She said a French woman was among the injured. She had said she did not know where two people she had been with were.

Armed police officer in Borough High StreetImage copyrightPA
Image captionArmed police were sent to Borough High Street
Counter-terrorism specialist firearm officers were in attendanceImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionCounter-terrorism specialist firearm officers were later in attendance
Ambulances on London BridgeImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionAmbulances attended to the injured on London Bridge

Speaking to the Press Association, Will Orton described being in a pub in the area and seeing people coming running inside.

"We didn't really know what was going on," he said.

"We thought maybe there was a fight or something outside. And then there were almost hundreds of people coming inside.

"The bouncers did a really good job, they shut the doors and locked everyone in. There was panic - it seemed like it was literally outside the door. People were coming inside and saying they had witnessed people being stabbed."

Map of London Bridge area

The prime minister said: "Following updates from police and security officials, I can confirm that the terrible incident in London is being treated as a potential act of terrorism."

Mrs May added: "This is a fast-moving investigation. I want to express my huge gratitude to the police and emergency services who are on the scene. 

"Our thoughts are with those who are caught up in these dreadful events."

Downing Street said Mrs May, who has been campaigning in the general election, returned to No 10 to receive further briefings from security officials.

On Twitter, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn described the incidents as "brutal and shocking". 

Transport for London (TfL) said London Bridge has been closed in both directions, while neighbouring Southwark Bridge has also been shut.

TfL said there were further closures in Borough High Street, where armed police and counter-terrorism specialist forces were later seen. On the north side of the river, Lower Thames Street was closed.

Meanwhile, Facebook said it has activated its safety check so people in London could post a message to let friends and relatives know they were safe.

Police said earlier they were also responding to an incident in the Vauxhall area a few miles away but later confirmed it was not connected to the London Bridge attacks.

Police in London Bridge areaImage copyrightPA
Police and ambulance could be seen on the south side of London Bridge
Image captionPolice and ambulance could be seen on the south side of London Bridge

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