One man was in hospital in a life-threatening condition after the stabbings on Sunday afternoon, while a woman has non-life threatening injuries and another woman has been treated for minor injuries.
The 20-year-old attacker was being monitored by undercover police officers at the time of the stabbings as part of a “proactive counterterrorism operation”, officials have confirmed.
It was the third terror attack to hit the UK since security services lowered the national threat level from severe to substantial in November, meaning attacks were deemed “likely” rather than “highly likely”.
“A device was found strapped to the body of the suspect and specialist officers attended,” Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lucy D’Orsi, from the Met Police, said in a statement on the attack.
“Cordons were put in place and it was quickly established that this was a hoax device.”
She added: “My thoughts are with the victims and their loved-ones at this time.”
A witness named Malik, a barber who works on the high street, said he heard gunshots as he was walking out of a chicken shop.
“I could see blood on the floor everywhere. There was a lady outside of a pharmacy who had been stabbed in the back with a knife, everyone was helping her,” he told The Independent.
Long stretches of Streatham High Road have been cordoned off, with helicopters seen above the area, and Transport for London diverted a number of buses away from the scene.
Pictures on social media showed a man lying on the ground wearing what is understood to be a fake suicide vest, like the one used in the London Bridge attack last year.
“We saw a guy with a huge knife, we heard the shouting, and saw police chase him down the street,” Timothy Hudson, a local resident, told The Independent.
“The police were telling him to put the machete, or the big knife, to put it down, and then they shot him.”
Soon after the attack, the Met Police advised the public to avoid the area while emergency services responded to the incident.
Graham Norton, London Ambulance Service strategic commander, said in a statement: “We were called at 1.58pm today (2 February) to reports of an incident in Streatham High Road.
“We are working closely with the other emergency services and sent a number of resources, including five ambulance crews, an advanced paramedic practitioner, an incident response officer and a motorcycle responder, and we also dispatched London’s Air Ambulance.
“We treated three patients for injuries at the scene, and took all three people to hospital.”
Boris Johnson, the prime minister, has thanked emergency services who responded to the incident and said his thoughts “are with the injured and all those affected.”
“Terrorists seek to divide us and to destroy our way of life - here in London we will never let them succeed,” Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said in a statement, as he thanked emergency services for their response.
Low-technology attacks involving knives and cars have been encouraged by Isis as a means of sowing terror worldwide.
In 2014, a speech by the group’s spokesperson called for indiscriminate attacks on all non-Muslims, particularly in countries such as Britain that were bombing the group’s territories in Syria and Iraq.
Isis propaganda has called for supporters to attack soft targets, such as shopping districts, with low security.
Fake suicide vests have been worn in attacks at London Bridge, HMP Whitemoor and Fishmongers’ Hall, and can be used as a means of preventing intervention and ensuring jihadis are shot dead by police.
British security services have foiled 24 attack plots – 16 Islamist and eight far-right – since March 2017.
In November, the head of UK counterterror police said his officers were running 800 live investigations.
“It’s not the volume of the threat, it’s the unpredictability and the lack of intelligence that creates the real pressure,” Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said.
“Targets are softer, methodology simple and cheap, and the perpetrators are either lone actors or more proficient in encryption. The attacks and the planning may be less frequent but they are harder to see and stop.”
Additional reporting by PA
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