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LONDON — An assailant fatally stabbed a police officer at the gates to Britain’s Parliament compound Wednesday after plowing a vehicle through terrified pedestrians along a landmark bridge. The attacker was shot and killed by police, but not before claiming a total of four lives in what appeared to be Europe’s latest high-profile terrorist attack. In a late-night statement, London Metropolitan Police said that they believed they knew who the attacker was, but declined to give a name. Speaking outside the Scotland Yard headquarters, Mark Rowley, the acting deputy police commissioner, said: “Our working assumption is he was inspired by international terrorism.” Police said the man traced a deadly path across the Westminster Bridge, running down people with an SUV, then ramming the vehicle into the fence encircling Parliament. At least 40 people were reported injured. Finally, the attacker charged with a knife at officers stationed at the iron gates leading to the Parliament grounds, authorities said. The fallen police officer was identified as Keith Palmer, a 48-year-old husband and father who was unarmed at the time of the attack. The dead and injured were left scattered on some of London’s most famous streets. Crumpled bodies lay on the Westminster Bridge over the River Thames, including at least two people killed. Outside Parliament, a Foreign Office minister — covered in the blood of the stabbed police officer — tried in vain to save his life. “The location of this attack was no accident,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday evening, after chairing COBRA, the government’s emergency committee. “The terrorist chose to strike at the heart of our capital city, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech.” But she said that “any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure. Tomorrow morning, Parliament will meet as normal,” she said. The scene at Parliament earlier in the day was one of confusion while the Parliament chambers and offices were put on full lockdown for more than two hours. “This is a day that we planned for but hoped would never happen. Sadly, it has now become a reality,” said Scotland Yard’s Rowley during one of his briefings. As he spoke, the bells of Big Ben tolled six times to mark the hour. ven before full details emerged, the attack and its chaos were certain to raise security levels in London and other Western capitals and bring further scrutiny on counterterrorism measures. “We are treating this as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise,” said a Twitter message from London Metropolitan Police. The attack occurred on Parliament’s busiest day of the week, when the prime minister appears for her weekly questions session and the House of Commons is packed with visitors. The Palace of Westminster, the ancient seat of the British Parliament, is surrounded by heavy security, with high walls, armed officers and metal detectors. But just outside the compound are busy roads packed with cars and pedestrians. The attack — a low-tech, high-profile assault on the most potent symbol of British democracy — fits the profile of earlier strikes in major European capitals that have raised threat levels across the continent in recent years.
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