As convicted terrorist Usman Khan began stabbing people in London on Friday, bystanders took swift action to stop the violence that left two dead and three injured before police intervened with guns.
The civilians who intervened used what they could grab: One man snatched a fire extinguisher. Another seized a five-foot-long narwhal tusk.
They pursued Khan onto the north side of London Bridge, where they were recorded on video working together to neutralize him before police arrived. A third man appeared to have no weapon at all when he knocked Khan to the ground with his fists. Armed officers shot the attacker upon realizing that he appeared to be wearing an explosive vest, which turned out to be a convincing fake.
The whole struggle atop London Bridge lasted just moments.
For their bravery, the bystanders were quickly and deservedly hailed as heroes by the British public.
But what was with that narwhal tusk?
It turns out the man wielding it had spotted the thing at Fishmonger’s Hall, located on the north bank of London Bridge, where the incident began.
Khan was ostensibly at the venue to participate in a conference on prisoner rehabilitation put on by Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology that included other former inmates along with prison staffers. He had been released from prison last year after serving time for plotting an al Qaeda-linked terrorist attack against Parliament, and was still wearing his electronic ankle tracking bracelet when he took out a huge knife.
As its name implies, Fishmonger’s Hall is the historical home of a centuries-old fishmonger’s guild. Its interior is peppered with nautical curios ― such as narwhal tusks mounted on either side of a doorway. Male narwhals, a type of Arctic whale, use the spear-like protrusions to hunt fish and, sometimes, to duel with other male narwhals.
Initial reports from British media stated that a Polish chef named Łukasz yanked one of the tusks off its perch and ran at Khan, and that he was stabbed in the hand in the process. However, Łukasz himself told London’s Metropolitan Police that he’d actually been holding a pole and that he worked as a porter. It was another man who grabbed the tusk, he said in a statement released Tuesday. But he did get hurt.
“[Khan] attacked me, after which he left the building,” Łukasz said. “A number of us followed him out but I stopped at the bollards of the bridge. I had been stabbed and was later taken to hospital to be treated. I am thankful that I have now been able to return home.”
Another man who risked his own safety to stop the attack was identified in press reports as convicted murderer James Ford, who was sent to prison for a 2004 slashing. The Guardian identified former prisoner Marc Conway as one of the other men who sprung to action.
One of the victims, Jack Meritt, 25, was an organizer of the prisoner rehabilitation conference. The other was Saskia Jones, 23.
British authorities are currently looking at the conditions of Khan’s release. It’s not yet known whether he took part in any “de-radicalization” programs while in prison.
This article has been updated with additional information on the bystanders and the victims.