LONDON: Scotland Yard today said it foiled a terror attack and arrested a 27-year-old man armed with knives near the UK Parliament on terrorism charges, a month after a lone wolf attack left five people dead near the highly guarded Westminster. The suspect was carrying a rucksack containing knives when he was detained "following a stop and search as part of an ongoing operation", police said. Whitehall, the political heart of London which houses Downing Street and other government buildings culminating in Parliament Square, and Parliament Street were closed to traffic as Metropolitan Police officers and forensics officers continued their investigation.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed that the man has been arrested under the UK's Terrorism Act and is being questioned at a south London police station. "The 27-year-old man was arrested in Parliament Street, junction with Parliament Square, by armed officers from the Met’s Specialist Firearms Command.
He was arrested on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon and on suspicion of the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism," Met Police said in a statement. "Knives have been recovered from him," it added.
Detectives from the Counter Terrorism Command are continuing their investigation in the area but police stressed there was no immediate known threat to the public following the incident, which took place just yards from the British Prime Minister’s official residence on Downing Street. Prime Minister Theresa May was not in Downing Street during the police operation in Whitehall, her spokesman said. She was informed about the incident by officials. May later said: "I think it shows that our police and our intelligence and security services are on the alert, as they always are, looking to keep us safe and secure."
According to reports, the arrest was the result of an ongoing anti-terrorism operation and that the arrested man was on the radar of intelligence officers. Images from the site of the arrest on Parliament Square showed two officers handcuffing a man, whose hands looked wrapped with a white bandage. Eyewitnesses described seeing a back-pack lying on the ground near the suspect along with two knives – one referred to as a large bread knife.
They said the suspect being arrested looked calm while officers handcuffed him. Security was instantly further beefed up in central London and several police helicopters could be heard on patrol. Westminster area of London remains on high alert since the terror attack on Parliament on March 22, which claimed five lives including terror suspect Khalid Masood.
The British Muslim suspect had mounted the pavement in a car at high speed after mowing down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer at the gates of Parliament.
The gates of the Palace of Westminster, which houses the Parliament building, were quickly closed down as today’s arrest unfolded. The terrorism threat level for the UK remains at severe, which means an attack is assessed to be highly likely.