Police hunt London bomb plot terrorists
By Stephen Fidler in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 29 2007 08:16 | Last updated: June 29 2007 20:54
Police were Friday night hunting terrorists after two car bombs capable of killing hundreds of people were found in London’s West End.
The vehicles which contained similar explosive materials were “clearly linked” and both were “potentially viable”, police said.
The first bomb, discovered in a green Mercedes outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub in Haymarket near Piccadilly Circus and defused by police, was set to go off less than 48 hours after Gordon Brown assumed office as prime minister.
The second car, a blue Mercedes, was found near Trafalgar Square and taken to a car pound near Hyde Park before being removed by police. Like the first car, it contained substantial quantities of fuel, gas canisters and nails, police said.
Terrorism experts who follow jihadi websites said there had been calls to mark Mr Brown’s coming into office with an attack, although government officials could not Friday night authenticate these reports.
CBS News also reported that, on a jihadi internet chatroom, someone calling himself Osama al-Hazeen had predicted “London shall be bombed”, hours before the attempted attack. It cited, among other supposed provocations, the recent knighthood given to the author, Salman Rushdie.
The second bomb was discovered amid a series of scares in the capital which led to several main roads being sealed off.
Police were seeking the driver of the four-door Mercedes left outside the Haymarket nightclub and were on Friday beginning to plough through CCTV footage of the area.
Terrorism experts said the relatively crude nature of the devices suggested, at least at first sight, that the culprits had not received sophisticated weapons training from al-Qaeda but instead may have been a self-starting group influenced by the group’s ideology.
However, previously convicted plotters had discussed targeting a nightclub with a bomb using gas canisters. The Crevice plotters, arrested in 2004 after buying 600kg of fertiliser and storing it in a lock-up garage, discussed bombing the Ministry of Sound, another London nightclub.
The security services said they had received no advance warning of such attacks on Friday and they were not among the 30 or so terrorist plots being monitored.
The website of MI5 said the national threat level remained at “severe”, the second-highest rating, meaning future terrorist attacks were highly likely. The level has remained unchanged since an alleged plot to blow up airliners across the Atlantic was uncovered last August.
Central London is one of the most intensively photographed and video-taped areas in the world, and every driver entering the centre of the city is photographed.
The new home secretary, Jacqui Smith, said she had chaired a session with the government’s “Cobra” committee, made up of ministers, police, emergency services and intelligence agencies, to discuss the attempted attacks. “We are currently facing the most serious and sustained threat to our security from international terrorism,” she said.
Police said the first alert was raised by an ambulance crew called to treat someone inside the nightclub at about 1am. The police were called and dismantled the device, which would have been detonated by a simple timer.