Young Maltese who witnessed Finsbury attack describes ‘surreal’ ordeal

A young Maltese woman who lives in the area where the Finsbury attack took place takes to social media describe the series of events that unfolded

Hillary Briffa, 25, lives on the same street where the Finsbury attack took place
Hillary Briffa, 25, lives on the same street where the Finsbury attack took place

Hillary Briffa, a 25-year-old Maltese national who lives in north London while she reads for her PhD in War Studies, had just left her apartment on Seven Sisters Road when a terrorist struck: a man named as 47-year-old married father of four Darren Osborne drove a van into a crowd of worshippers as they left a mosque on the very same street in the small hours of Monday morning.

The attack left one person dead and 11 others injured.

“I'm feeling so emotional that this street, which has been my home for two and a half years, has suffered such an ugly attack; I pass these neighbours everyday, I could easily have been in that spot if I'd arrived home 40 minutes later,” Briffa wrote yesterday in a length Facebook post detailing the events of the attack as they unfolded.

“A friend was dropping off some stuff at my flat and I saw him out onto the street at about 12:20. In the time it took him to go to his car and set his GPS, the attack took place,” she explained.

Briffa said that being a qualified first aider, she ran down to the site of the attack as soon as she heard the screaming and commotion, hoping to provide assistance.

“There was a big crush of people trying to attack the perpetrator, a white guy with curly hair. Police began pushing the crowd back, stating that they could not give exact information at present but people were hurt and we needed to move back to make way for the emergency services. From where I was standing I could see at least three wounded being clustered around but am certain there were more casualties. It was hard to see through the fray and necessary to also factor in personal safety and respect for the wishes of the police not to surge forwards,” she said.

Police cordon off the area of the attack, as seen from Briffa's window (Photo: Facebook)
Police cordon off the area of the attack, as seen from Briffa's window (Photo: Facebook)

Briffa described people as being “extremely agitated”, pointing out crying women, and men who were pinning the attack on Islamophobia and calling for the media to cover the “terrorist act”.

“Some were so angry that they were refusing to move back as police began walking the group down the road to put up a cordon - a scuffle nearly broke out. Misguided anger and a sense of helplessness was causing people to lash out at the police but they handled the situation very professionally and firmly,” Briffa recalled.

She went on to explain that as the crowd settled, she returned to her apartment, as the police had pushed the cordon back beyond it, essentially blocking her out if she had not returned at that moment.

Looking at the scene unfold from her window, Briffa described it as filling with “dozens of police cars, ambulances and enormous fire engines,” followed shortly by “heavily armed police.”

Feeling helpless with “sitting and waiting as word travelled down the street about the casualties,” Briffa made her way downstairs to offer tea or water to those in the area.

“Since I live above a 24-hour store - Akdeniz Food Market - the shopkeepers and I handed bottles of water to the police working in the 28 degree heat. That was all we could do as we were then asked to remain inside for our safety, being civilians within the cordon zone.”

As phone calls from various news agencies started to pour in at about 3:00am, Briffa said she emphasised that Finsbury Park “is a thriving multi-ethnic community where people interact with and are concerned for their neighbours.”

Emergency services left the scene at about 5:00am (Photo: Facebook)
Emergency services left the scene at about 5:00am (Photo: Facebook)

She mentioned how the community had come together short before the attack to commemorate the memory of slain British MP Jo Cox, who had been brutally shot and stabbed by a far-right extremist in Birstall, in her constituency of Batley and Spen in June last year.

“Just this weekend in London, we celebrated The Great Get Together in memory of Jo Cox - an MP I greatly admired and enjoyed spending time with - who was murdered last year. She pushed for unity and all across the UK there were activities bringing the community together in her memory. I think it was no coincidence this attack occurred mere hours afterwards, seeking to undermine all she stood for.”

By 4:00am those caught inside the mosque were released and most emergency service vehicles drove off at about 5:00am, Briffa said, although the cordon was not dismantled.

“It's surreal watching news of forensics on site filter down to the Sergeant at our end,” she said, adding that tensions remained high and emotional bystanders were misdirecting their anger. “I witnessed a woman hurling abuse at the police this morning for arresting not killing the perpetrator. Infuriated, I thanked the police for protecting us and for their remarkable response last night.”

Briffa then turned her anger to a video published on social network Twitter, in which she was tagged. Without revealing the identities of those involved, Briffa explained that the authors of the video had made slideshow of footage of the incidents in Westminster, London Bridge and Finsbury – three terrorist attacks which took place in London in as many months – and recorded themselves laughing over it.

“There are some absolutely SICK people in this world. At the same time, civilians standing in the street to pray and support one another last night shows that there is also goodness and kindness to counter it,” she said.

Briffa ended her impassioned post echoing Cox, pledging to keep the community united.

“My heart breaks for what London is enduring but we shall not give up our values for a few cowards. As Jo Cox put it, we still have 'far #moreincommon than that which divides us'.”

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