In the very early hours of Monday morning, 47-year-old Darren Osborne is alleged to have driven a truck through a crowd of people leaving Finsbury Park mosque in north London. The means of the terror attack had become frighteningly familiar to the people of the UK, but in this case the alleged perpetrator is white and the victims are Muslim. Some commentators have said media and authorities in the UK were slow to label the event as a terrorist attack and are treating it differently to the London Bridge attack. How did Australia’s papers cover the story?

Is it terrorism?

The national broadsheet quoted the early police description of the attacks as having “all the hallmarks of a terrorist incident” in the lead of Jacquelin Magnay’s front-page story. British Prime Minister Theresa May and London Mayor Sadiq Khan were both unequivocal in describing the event as terror.  

Even Greg Sheridan’s column, dedicated to “calling it like it is” (in which he said, as an act of violence with a political aim, the Finsbury Park attack is terrorism) offered a caveat — “unless it turns out the driver was psychotically deranged, it is terrorism”. This is an out one can’t imagine being offered to, say, Salman Abedi. 

Was there a hero Imam?

The Age and The Guardian both reported on “hero” Imam Mohammed Mahmoud, who stepped in and led a group of men who shielded the attacker from the crowd until the authorities arrived. The full story didn’t make the hard copy of the Fairfax papers (although he got a specific mention in the larger piece across pages 8 and 9 in The Age).

Mahmoud is also mentioned in The West Australian‘s story about the perpetrator Darren Osborne. While in the Oz, Sheridan commended the restraint of onlookers while waiting for the authorities, Mahmoud got no mention (a story on Mahmoud, sourced from The Times, has since gone on the Oz‘s website). A Finsbury Park mosque imam who did get a mention in the The Australian, the Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph — The Tele, incidentally, didn’t get around to mentioning the Finsbury Park story until page 15, after a piece about a matador gored to death in France — was Egyptian hate preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri.

Extremist history and revenge

According to the Hun,”Finsbury Park mosque was once synonymous with radical Islam after the infamous hate preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri arrived in 1997″. The Oz goes further, cataloging Hamza’s “followers” as including “‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid, 9/11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui and Mohammed Sidique Khan, one of the four suicide bombers who attacked London’s Underground on July 7, 2005”. 

Hamza has not been the imam of Finsbury park since 2003 and was not mentioned by the Fairfax papers. There was also the emphasis on the word revenge, and the recent attacks perpetrated by Muslims in the UK, in particular in the Oz‘s headline and story, with Magnay opening her second par with the assertion that it was “feared to be a revenge attack for three Islamic State-inspired strikes in Britain over the past three months” and saying the victims’ faith triggered “fears of a wave of reprisals”. Neither fear was attributed to anyone in particular.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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