AFP | July 10 2005
|Comment: This looks like a fearmongering operation in Birmingham, due to the fact that specific time and place warnings were received. Just like after 9/11 it seems that we're going to get endless alerts every day for the forseeable future.
The heart of Birmingham remained cordoned off after police evacuated about 20,000 people overnight, citing a threat to Britain's second city, but a top officer virtually ruled out a link with the London terror bombings.
Bomb Disposal Squad officers were investigating a suspect package in the Broad Street entertainment quarter after carrying out four controlled explosions on a bus in the city centre.
Police said the bus alerts were unrelated to the initial threat and so the cordon and evacuation order remained.
"The further package that was reported in the Broad Street area was found at a hotel," a West Midlands Police spokeswoman said Sunday.
"The description of this package was a box with wires coming out and a switch on top.
"The bomb disposal squad are still investigating this package and it's likely to be some time yet before we get a further update."
Stuart Hyde, the force's assistant chief constable explained late Saturday the measures were taken following information about a "substantial threat" to the area, but he said the incident was probably not connected to the London bomb attacks.
"We have evacuated an area of Birmingham city centre... and we are asking people who are there at the moment to go home," Hyde said.
"I do not believe that the incident that we are dealing with this evening is connected with the events of July 7 in London," he added.
"I want to make that pretty clear."
Police said the decision to close a large part of the central England city and evacuate an estimated 20,000 people had not been taken lightly.
"We have made this decision after careful analysis and consideration and we are very, very grateful to the public for their understanding," Hyde told a news conference.
"We believe it is a proportionate response to the information."
Hyde said the Broad Street zone -- an area known as the Golden Mile, which is packed with bars and clubs -- and the Chinatown area had been shut off.
Police were searching bars, restaurants and clubs and patrons were also frisked as they came and went.
Hyde said the an examination of a package exploded on the bus showed it was not a risk.
A police helicopter patrolled the skies as traffic stood at a standstill around the city with officers on the inner ringroad stopping vehicles entering the city centre.
It was not known when the sealed off areas would reopen.
Revellers who would normally have been enjoying themselves in city bars, pubs and clubs were making their way home, although many appeared not to know what transport to take.
Sophie Dent, a 23-year-old accountant, was going to a party at the student union in Aston University, about a 10-minute walk from the centre of town.
"We went for a drink at a friend's flat inside the university halls and then heard about the bomb scares and that people were getting evacuated from the city centre," Dent told AFP.
The police "then started evacuating the union and all the surrounding bars. There were no buses running and all the taxis were packed so I had to ring my mum to come and pick us up," she said.
"I feel alright, I am just glad to be on my way home."
Birmingham club owner Allan Sartori said police seemed to have the city centre under control.
"I would suspect that everything's pretty calm at the moment and that everyone has moved away and done exactly what they were asked to do," he told ITV News.
The businessman said evacuating the city centre would have cost "a lot of people a lot of money".
However, "people's lives are far more important than money in a situation like this," he added.
French student Natalie Perrier, 19, was evacuated from her flat in the zone.
"I saw helicopters in front of my house, there were three police cars as well going around the streets," she said. "I was just scared. I didn't know what was happening."
The evacuation came two days after bomb attacks on London's underground rail system and a double-decker bus in which at least 50 people were killed and some 700 injured.
Police said an arts centre was open for those stranded and Aston University was on standby.
Birmingham is no stranger to terror strikes.
The notorious Irish Republican Army pub bombings of 1974 were some of the most serious atrocities committed in mainland Britain, killing 21 people and wounding scores more