A retired American teacher was killed and five people injured as victims were selected at random in a “spontaneous” knife rampage in central London.
A 19-year-old Norwegian national of Somali origin who moved to the UK in 2002 was arrested on suspicion of murder after the attack on Wednesday night.
Sky News named him as Zakaria Bulhan from south London. He remained in police custody last night.
Scotland Yard said no evidence has been found of radicalisation or anything to suggest the man in custody was “in any way motivated by terrorism”.
The dead woman was last night named as 64-year-old Darlene Horton. She was the wife of a university professor Richard Wagner, from Florida and was hours away from flying home.
Ms Horton was visiting the capital with her husband who was teaching summer classes, when she was attacked in Russell Square.
Florida State University said the couple had planned to return to their home in Tallahassee yesterday.
Florida State University (FSU) president John Thrasher said: “There are no words to express our heartache over this terrible tragedy.
“We are shocked that such senseless violence has touched our own FSU family and we will do all we can to assist Professor Wagner and his loved ones, as well as his friends and colleagues in the psychology department, as they mourn.”
Ms Horton died at the scene while those injured in the attack suffered a variety of stab wounds including to their chests, back, stomach and arm. Those injured are Australian, American, Israeli and British.
Two remain in hospital while the others have been discharged. None is in a life-threatening condition.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said: “Whilst the investigation is not yet complete, all of the work we have done so far increasingly points to this tragic incident as having been triggered by mental health issues.
“At this time, we believe this was a spontaneous attack and that the victims were selected at random.”
Investigators have made “urgent progress” in five strands of work, Mr Rowley said — interviewing the suspect, speaking with his family, witness accounts, address searches and a full intelligence review by police and security services.
Officers have searched an address in north London and will search another in south London.
Mr Rowley, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, said: “I emphasise that so far we have found no evidence of radicalisation that would suggest the man in our custody is in any way motivated by terrorism.
“The suspect is a Norwegian national, of Somali origin. I stress, though, that all the work we have done so far does not suggest that those factors in his background are relevant to the motivation for his actions.”
Asked what led police to say in the early hours of yesterday that terrorism was a line of inquiry, Mr Rowley said: “You would expect us in the current climate of threat and with the events across Europe, when we have a violent attack like this with multiple victims, to consider all possibilities.”
The episode took place in a popular tourist spot near the British Museum in Bloomsbury, and around a mile to the north of the bustling area around the Strand, where several theatres and scores of restaurants are located.
Police raced to the scene shortly after 10.30pm on Wednesday after reports of a man attacking people with a knife.
Mr Rowley, the country’s lead counter-terrorism officer, said armed officers arrived within six minutes of the call, adding: “The man was Tasered and he was detained.” No shots were fired.
The events unfolded hours after Scotland Yard announced more armed officers would be deployed on public patrol around the capital after a spate of attacks in mainland Europe.
London mayor Sadiq Khan called for the public to remain “calm and vigilant”.
Witnesses described chaotic scenes in the wake of the attack.
A cyclist who was passing the scene moments after the stabbing told how he was flagged down for help by a Spanish family.
Fernando, 40, from Brazil, had not seen the attacker but said the family told police the man was wearing black shorts and a white shirt, and was covering his face as he made sweeping, stabbing motions.
He went on: “The moment the police arrived, they asked them if the man had been shouting. They said that he didn’t say anything. They said that when he stabbed the people he didn’t shout or scream anything.”
Jodie Parry, who was in her hotel room when she heard a “commotion” in the street, told the BBC that the attacker ignored police as they screamed at him to stop running.
She added: “He was actually carrying a knife in his hand and he had blood on his hands.”
Manuel Simo, 32, told the Evening Standard: “At first, people were confused. When they realised what was happening, people were screaming and running away from a guy who was holding a knife.”
The incident took place close to Tavistock Square — scene of the bus bombing during the July 2005 attacks.
Paris on high alert
Security agencies in Paris have circulated a photo of an Afghan asylum seeker on suspicion that he might be plotting an attack on the capital, a police source said, as France reels from two strikes in a month by Islamic State loyalists.
Police did not have a name for the Afghan, the source said, and no active manhunt was under way. Metronews reported that the man had been in France for the past two months.
France has been under emergency rule since militant gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in Paris in November. Last month, a Tunisian drove his truck into Bastille Day revellers in Nice, killing 84 people, and two Islamist militants cut the throat of an elderly priest.
Days before the Normandy church attack on July 26, France’s security services had received a tip-off from a foreign intelligence agency that a suspected militant was planning an attack, and sent out a nameless photo to different agencies.
The photo turned out to be of one of the church killers, 19-year-old Abdel-Malik Nabir Petitjean.
Paris is on high alert, wary in particular of the potential for an attack on the “Paris Plage” beach festival.
Every summer Paris closes off a major road along one bank of the river Seine and dumps sand to create an artificial beach. Following the Nice attack, vehicles and concrete blocks are being used to block entrances to the site.
More than 50 summer festivals and events are receiving special security attention this year.. Several have been cancelled on the basis that they cannot meet security standards.
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