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London on terror alert after 'massive' bomb attack on bar

UK Daily Mail | June 28, 2007

The threat of terror returned to London today after a car bomb was found outside a West End nightclub.

The apparent target was Tiger Tiger in Haymarket, where up to 1,700 people were inside on 'ladies night'.

Police were called shortly before 2am this morning and the immediate area was cordoned off while explosives officers made the 'potentially viable device' safe.

One witness described seeing a green gas cylinder in the boot of the car, believed to be a silver Mercedes, which probably contained explosives. The boot was packed with hundreds of nails. There were also two more cylinders on the back seat.

The size of the bomb could have caused major structural damage to the club which is spread over four floors.

One senior anti-terrorist source said: "This was a viable device which could have caused massive damage and killed hundreds if it had worked.

"The consequences would have been terrible. This is the scenario that we have dreaded."

Anti-terrorist officers were this morning carrying out an urgent search for other possible car bombs in the centre of London.

A huge hunt is under way for the driver of the car.

It is not known whether he was a suicide bomber who lost his nerve or if he had planned to walk away and detonate the bomb when the street was crowded with people leaving the club which was due to close at 2am.

Witnesses have told how a silver Mercedes appeared to swerve into some bins beside the road before it stopped and the driver walked away at around 1.30. Security staff became suspicious and looked into the car and then alerted police.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said today's incident reminds us that Britain faces "a serious and continuous threat" and the public "need to be alert" at all times.

"I will stress to the Cabinet that the vigilance must be maintained over the next few days," he said.

New Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was called at home and Cobra, the Cabinet's crisis committee, and will chair a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergency committee this morning. She will then brief Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Cabinet on the bomb.

Intelligence sources in London said they were keeping an open mind on who was responsible for the car bomb.

"All options, including the Irish, are open at this stage," said the source.

But Islamic extremists are a likely suspect, particularly since a nightclub has been targetted.

In April five British Muslim men were jailed for life for plotting a wave of al Qaeda bomb attacks - among their targets was Ministry of Sound nightclub in Southwark.

Commuters faced rush-hour disruption this morning as nearby Piccadilly station was closed. Haymarket is likely to remain closed for most of the day, police said.

Today Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorism Command and MI5 were on full alert. Police are examining CCTV in the West End so they can track the path of the car and the driver's escape.

Defence Secretary Des Browne said: "It does appear to be a very serious incident.

"My first reaction to this is, thank God that we have police and explosives experts who can make these devices safe, and the arrangements they appear to have done, and that nobody has been injured."

Jack Straw, who was appointed Justice Secretary in new PM Gordon Brown's Cabinet reshuffle yesterday, said ministers had been informed of the incident "much earlier this morning".

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme it was "very saddening" but "these things happen".

Mr Straw insisted it was essential that announcements were made by the police rather than ministers.

He added: "Of course the police will try to ensure there is as little disruption as possible. But everyone understands the key priority is safety."

Security was being raised around London to a level not seen since the 7/7 attacks. The alert comes a week before the second anniversary of the London bombings.

At the Houses of Parliament only full passholders - MPs, officials and lobby journalists - were allowed in and they were subjected to airport-style X-ray machines and body searches.

Anti-terrorist officers have long feared a suicide or car bomb attack on a crowded club or pub in the city.

They have also feared terrorists would mount an attack to coincide with Gordon Brown taking over as Prime Minister.

A bar worker in Lower Regent Street said today: "I have been told there was a Mercedes driving along Haymarket at around 1.30am when the driver swerved and hit some bins outside Tiger Tiger.

"The driver then got out and legged it. The bouncers had a look at the car and they found gas cylinders and nails in the boot. And that's when they called the police."

Cleaner Akram Ahmed, 22, said: "We heard this was a suspicious car with what could be a bomb in it.

"I have been here since 5.30am and I can't get anywhere near work. It's a bit worrying to think that someone would want to blow up a place like Tiger Tiger. It's normally very busy on Thursdays and a lot of people could have been hurt."

Waiter Alfonso Guarez, 32, was trying to get to Coventry Street. He said: "This is crazy. I have been here since 5am this morning and nobody could tell me what's going on.

"We have heard that there seemed to be some kind of explosion and we saw a lot of police coming in and they put up a tent around the club."

Tiger Tiger packed with dancers
Tiger Tiger attracts hundreds of young people every night. Spread over three floors, the 18,000 sq ft venue has capacity for 1,770 people with four bars, a restaurant and large dance floor.
Because of its central location near Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square it is a favourite of City workers and tourists.

It is open until 2am during the week and 3am on Saturday. One online reviewer said it was so busy on a Saturday that 'you could barely move'.

Another described its 'sheer maze effect' and 'very, very crowded dancefloor'.

The club in Haymarket was opened in 1998 by Chorion, the company behind the Trocadero. It was bought by Urbium in 2002, a company which had Tory leader David Cameron on its board of directors. He left in 2005.

Urbium owns 25 bars in London and chairman John Conlan, speaking after the 7/7 attacks, said: "We have been through 9/11 and the IRA's long campaign ... we have to take it on the chin."

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