London was hit with a spat of cruel acid attacks on Thursday night as two teenagers on a moped rampaged through the streets and seriously injured five men.
The 15- and 16-year-old assailants have been taken into custody as suspects and could be charged with robbery and grievous bodily harm.
London police report that they received the first call of an attack at 10:16 p.m. and the final call at 11:37 p.m., the five incidents occurring in less than 90 minutes.
The attack began when the suspects approached a 32-year-old man, threw a noxious liquid in his face, and made off with his moped.
Approximately 20 minutes later, another victim was sprayed by the duo with a searing liquid.
At 11:05 p.m. they attacked a third victim by throwing a substance in his face — according to police the man's injuries were not life-threatening.
However, less than 15 minutes later, the pair struck again, and this victim suffered "life-changing" facial injuries.
The final attack was on another moped rider who they sprayed in the face with the vile liquid and robbed of his vehicle.
All five victims were rushed to the hospital and, while no one was killed, police are still awaiting an assessment on the full extent of their injuries.
"I heard a high-pitched scream but thought it was the boys playing football... I heard more shouting and ran to my window," an eye-witness told the BBC. "I could see a man in serious distress, he was screaming in pain."
Assaults using corrosive substances like acid have been on the rise in London and a report released by the Metropolitan Police Service in March documents a rapid increase in these crimes over the last three years. In 2014 there were 166 reported cases, in 2015 there were 261, and the number rose to 454 in 2016.
The incidents are largely concentrated to east London, and the report shows that men are twice as likely as women to be the victims of these attacks, possibly because it is becoming a favored weapon of gangs. Globally, 80 percent of the victims of acid attacks are women and usually the results of domestic violence. Recent London acid attacks have also been motivated by racism and rising Islamophobia.
While police and policymakers have stated that they are working together to monitor the communities where the attacks most frequently occur and make arrests efficiently, the measures needed to be taken are largely preventative. The ingredients needed to make a dangerous and corrosive substance are easily available in stores in the United Kingdom.
Simon Laurence, chief superintendent for an east London borough, said the solution to these brutal crimes begins at the cash register.
"It's drain cleaner, oven cleaner, ammonia — different types of household products which can be bought," he told CNN. "My plea is to sellers to have moral responsibility, social responsibility, to ask the questions."
The swift escalation in these attacks indicates that a larger community effort will be needed to quickly stop these grotesque assaults. Police, lawmakers, and London residents will need to look out for each other so that committing violence of this nature becomes much more difficult.
Thumbnail Credit: REUTERS, Peter Nicholls