LONDON — Two teenage boys raced through London on a scooter and threw or sprayed acid in the faces of five other scooter riders apparently chosen at random, according to police.
Two boys, ages 15 and 16, were arrested in connection with the attacks, committed during a 72-minute spree Thursday across the neighborhoods of Clapton, Hackney, Islington, and Stoke Newington in northeast London, Metropolitan Police said.
One of the victims suffered what were described by police as life-changing injuries to the face.
The attacks began when two assailants on a scooter pulled up to a man on another scooter at an intersection, threw a corrosive substance in his face, and then stole his vehicle, police said.
Four additional attacks, all involving two teenage boys on a scooter, or moped, took place in rapid succession in neighborhoods nearby, with the assailants spraying acid in the faces of other scooter riders in an apparent attempt to steal their vehicles, police said.
They succeeded in stealing only two scooters during the spree, police said.
All of the victims were men, ranging in age from 24 to 52, and there was no indication that the assaults were hate crimes.
“These are hideous offenses and must have been very frightening for all of the victims,” Chief Inspector Ben Clark said. “I’m aware of rumors circulating that the victims were all food delivery riders set up in advance of the attacks. This is not the case. All victims were riding mopeds at the time of the attacks, but were from a variety of backgrounds.”
Police said the teenagers had been arrested on suspicion of robbery and of causing grievous bodily harm, and appealed for witnesses and anyone with footage of the attacks to come forward. All five victims were treated in an East London hospital, and at least four of them remain hospitalized, police said.
Metropolitan Police have said that acid attacks are on the rise in the British capital, with 458 reported last year, nearly double the total of the previous year.
In a radio interview with London station LBC, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, called the attacks barbaric. “I don’t want people to think this is happening all over London all the time. It really is not,” she said. “But we are concerned, because the numbers appear to be going up.”
The British government began talking to police, government officials and retailers this month about the feasibility of banning some acids, a process that would be complicated by the fact that they are commonly found in household products like drain cleaner and bleach.
A junior minister at the Home Office, Sarah Newton, told Parliament that the government was considering a range of preventive measures, including discussions with retailers about how to restrict access to some of the products used in acid attacks.
Clark said: “I would urge businesses and parents to challenge those who they think may be trying to obtain or carry these substances.”