ISIS Claims Responsibility for Deadly London Attack Near British Parliament

London Attack Tribute
Floral tributes are seen in Westminster the day after an attack, in London, Britain March 23. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the incident. Hannah McKay/Reuters

Updated | The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the car-ramming and knife attack in London that killed two civilians and a police officer Wednesday, calling the attacker a “soldier” of the group’s self-styled caliphate.

The claim came via the extremist group’s Amaq news agency, which it routinely uses to announce its role in deadly attacks. After several attacks, including that on an Orlando nightclub by gunman Omar Mateen in June 2016, ISIS has referred to the assailant as one of its “soldiers,” even if the group did not directly order the attack.

The statement, released on the encrypted messaging platform Telegram, said: “Source to Amaq: The attacker yesterday in front of the British parliament in London was a soldier of the Islamic State, executing the operation in response to calls to target citizens of coalition nations.”

ISIS claim The English translation of ISIS's claim of responsibility for the Westminster attack, released via Amaq news agency. Michael S. Smith II

The attacker, driving a grey Hyundai i40, mounted the pavement on Westminster Bridge, driving into civilians before crashing into the Palace of Westminster. The attacker then left the vehicle, stabbing and killing 48-year-old policeman Keith Palmer. The hit-and-run injured dozens.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, delivering a speech to parliament on Thursday, said the as-yet unidentified attacker is British-born and security services had previously investigated him for extremism but he became a “peripheral” figure.

The attack represents the first such assault claimed by ISIS on British soil since its rise to prominence in June 2014. The group has previously claimed attacks on the French, German and Belgian capitals.

Britain is one of the group’s primary targets because of its role in the U.S.-led campaign against the group in Iraq and Syria, and experts say the claim is unsurprising.

Read more: London attack survivor recounts near miss as car rammed civilians on Westminster Bridge

“They have been petitioning for their support base in the West to execute attacks in the U.K. since 2014,” says Michael S. Smith II, co-founder of U.S.-based Kronos Advisory. “It is indeed remarkable that we haven’t seen more attacks occur, and it’s a testament to the great work that the security services in the U.K. do.”

Foreign fighters within the extremist group’s ranks in Iraq and Syria have remotely directed several attacks in the West, such as the knife assault on a church near the northern French city of Rouen in July last year. Two attackers, who authorities believe were directed from Syria by French jihadist Rachid Kassim, killed the parish’s priest.

But it remains unclear if members of ISIS played a direct role in the London attacker’s plot, or if he was inspired by the group’s propaganda.

In September 2014, the group’s now-dead spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani called on Muslim supporters around the world to attack Western kuffar, or disbelievers, wherever they could, and with whatever weapon they could muster. “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car,” he said in an audio message.

The London attack is the fourth vehicle assault the group has claimed involvement in, or inspiration for, since the beginning of 2016. These include the truck attack in the southern French city of Nice in July, in which Tunisian national Mohamed Bouhlel plowed the vehicle into Bastille Day revellers, killing 86 people.

On November 28, 2016, Somali national Abdul Razak Ali Artan rammed a car into civilians on Ohio State University campus. He got out of the car and began to stab people nearby. He injured 13 people before a campus police officer shot him dead. Authorities believed he was inspired by the Islamic State militant group, who later claimed the assault.

On December 19, 2016, Tunisian national Anis Amri drove a truck into a Christmas market in central Berlin, killing 12 people. He had stolen the vehicle from a Polish national, shooting him dead in the cab. A Europe-wide manhunt lasted for four days after the attack, until Italian police shot Amri dead in a Milan suburb. He had traveled from Germany, across the Netherlands, Belgium and France to reach the country. ISIS claimed the attack one day later, and released a video of Amri pledging allegiance to the group's caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi several days after its claim.