Parliament crash:

Counter-terrorism police leading investigation after car crashed into security barriers

A man has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences after a car crashed into a number of cyclists and pedestrians before hitting security barriers outside the Houses of Parliament in London.

Armed police swooped on the scene in marked cars moments after the silver Ford Fiesta collided with the barriers at about 7.40am on Tuesday. Officers pointed their weapons at the vehicle before a driver emerged and was placed in handcuffs.

The man, a 29-year-old UK national, was arrested and taken to a police station in south London where he remained in custody. He was the only person in the vehicle, which remained at the scene and was being searched. No weapons had been recovered, police said.

Counter-terrorism officers were searching two addresses in Birmingham and one in Nottingham as part of the investigation.

Detectives established that the privately owned Fiesta travelled from Birmingham to London late on Monday, arriving just after midnight.

The car was in the Tottenham Court Road area from about 1.25am until 5.55am, police said. It was then driven around the Westminster and Whitehall area from approximately 6am and stayed in the area until the time of the incident.

Speaking outside New Scotland Yard, Neil Basu, head of counter-terrorism policing in the UK, said officers were working to get more information on the suspect, but he was not cooperating. The man was not previously known to the security services, he said.

“Given that this appears to be a deliberate attack, the method and this being an iconic site, we are treating it as a terrorist incident,” said Basu.

It is understood police have identified the man and that he is from the Midlands. The owner of the car is known to police, the Guardian understands, although it is unclear whether the suspect is that owner.

The government said it would hold a meeting of its emergency Cobra committee at 2pm on Tuesday.

Three people were treated at the scene after the incident, two of whom were taken to hospital, the London ambulance service said. Their injuries were not thought to be serious.

St Thomas’s hospital confirmed it had treated one patient whose injuries were not life-threatening and who had been discharged. Another patient was at St Mary’s hospital in Paddington, west London.

The dramatic scenes have echoes of the Westminster Bridge attack in March 2017, which prompted the extension of steel and concrete security barriers around the Houses of Parliament. Khalid Masood ploughed a car into crowds on Westminster Bridge, killing four people, before stabbing and killing the unarmed PC Keith Palmer.

A witness, Ewalina Ochab, said: “The car drove at speed and towards the barriers. I was walking on the other side [of the road]. I heard some noise and someone screamed.”

The car did not appear to have a front registration plate when it crashed, she said. “I turned around and I saw a silver car driving very fast close to the railings, maybe even on the pavement. The person driving did not go out of the vehicle.”

Melanie Spindler, a tourist from Germany, was in the area with her husband and their two children. She said: “We tried to go to Westminster Pier for a trip down the Thames. We arrived just now and realised the area was closed. This [potential terror incidents] is the reality now. We are not concerned at this stage.”

Sam Goodman, who works for the Labour party at parliament, was leaving the evacuated area. He said: “It’s business as usual, we’ve been here before. It’s a bit tense, but there’s not a huge amount of knowledge about what has happened. There was a very quick response from the police.”

The decision to treat the incident as terrorism was made for several reasons, including CCTV recovered by police showing the vehicle driving at pedestrians and civilians.

Streets around Parliament Square, Millbank and Victoria Tower Gardens were cordoned off. The length of Whitehall was closed to traffic, with the cordon extended up to where the road meets Trafalgar Square.

Transport for London said Westminster tube station was closed except for interchanges.

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “Huge thanks to our emergency services for their rapid reaction to incident in Westminster this morning. My thoughts are with those injured.”

It is understood Theresa May, who is on holiday abroad, was informed of the incident at 8am and has been given regular updates by officials.

She tweeted: “My thoughts are with those injured in the incident in Westminster and my thanks to the emergency services for their immediate and courageous response.”

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said: “My thoughts are with those hurt and injured outside parliament this morning in what is being treated as a terrorist incident. Our thanks go to our emergency services who responded immediately. Their bravery keeps us safe day in, day out.”

Donald Trump, tweeted: “Another terrorist attack in London … These animals are crazy and must be dealt with through toughness and strength!”