The imam hailed as a hero for protecting the man suspected of running down worshippers with a van near a Finsbury Park mosque has described the aftermath of the attack.

Mohammed Mahmoud said he had just finished evening prayers in his mosque when a man rushed in to tell the community something had happened outside. Running to the street, Mahmoud said he saw a number of people gathered around a man who was on the floor.

“He had been restrained by around three people,” he said. “We found that a group of people quickly started to collect around the assailant and some of them tried to hit him, either kicks or punches. By God’s grace we managed to surround him and protect him from any harm. We stopped all forms of attack and abuse that were coming from every angle.”

Mahmoud said that as this scene unfolded, a police van happened to be driving past, which he and a number of other men flagged down. “We told them the situation and that the man was restrained after he had mowed down a group of people with his van. There’s a mob attempting to hurt him, and if you don’t take him, god forbid he might be seriously hurt.

“We pushed people away from him until he was safely taken by police into custody and put into the back of the van.

“That’s all that we did. It wasn’t me alone. There were some other brothers, I don’t know their names, who were calm and collected and managed to calm people down and to extinguish any flames of anger or mob rule that would have taken charge had this group of mature brothers not stepped in.”

Responding to a question about whether Mahmoud was worried about anger following the attack, he said his community was “mild mannered, calm” and “not known for their violence”.

“Our mosques are incredibly peaceful,” he said. “I can assure you we will do our utmost to calm down any tensions. Immediately after the incident people who were calm, people were praying for the victims of the attack. Everybody knew that there was nothing more they could do for them than pray for them and let the emergency services carry out their exemplary job.”

On the attacker, Mahmoud said he drove the van perpendicular to the street and with “enough [force] to make people fly off to one side”.

He said they were concerned that one of those injured could be paralysed for life, as he “could not move his arm or legs” and said he could not feel them. The attacker himself appeared “calm”, and said nothing after Mahmoud arrived and he was bundled into a police van.

Mahmoud labelled the incident a “tragic and barbaric terrorist attack. All life is sacred.”

He added: “[It] may be proof that this demonisation of the Muslim community by those who may have ulterior motives who wish to divide this city and country has succeeded to some extent influencing the vulnerable and impressible into thinking that we are barbaric, and that we are people who like to shed blood and therefore that we must be eliminated and exterminated.

“It’s on par with the London Bridge attack, which was obviously a terrorist attack and one which we condemn, and we just hope that in times of tragedy people come together and unite.”

Read more about how bystanders stepped in here.

–Rose Troup Buchanan