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Police hunt for London car bomber

BBC News | June 29, 2007

Police are searching for the driver of an abandoned car containing a bomb that would have killed hundreds of people in central London had it exploded.

An ambulance crew spotted the metallic green Mercedes by chance outside the busy Tiger Tiger night club in Haymarket at 0130BST (0030GMT).

Police defused a bomb made of 60 litres of petrol, gas cylinders and nails.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford said a second device was found in another Mercedes in a car park in London's Park Lane.

The major thoroughfare was closed while bomb squad officers checked the vehicle. It reopened at 1930BST.

The Haymarket area remains closed as dozens of officers carry out forensic searches. The Mercedes is being tested at the Forensics Explosives Laboratory in Kent.

CCTV footage is also being examined and police are believed to be making some progress towards getting an image of the driver.

The BBC understands that the second car was towed to the Park Lane car park after it was found parked illegally in the West End.

Staff at the pound contacted police after hearing about the Haymarket bomb because the vehicle smelled of petrol.

Extra patrols

Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur urged people to be "alert and vigilant" and report anything suspicious to police.

Disruption would be kept to a minimum, he said, although the police were reviewing the safety of big public events to take place in the capital over the weekend.

"I want to reassure Londoners that we are doing everything possible to make them safe," he added.

Following Friday's discovery police patrols in central London were stepped up "to provide a visible reassurance", rather than in response to a specific threat.

Officers were visiting licensed premises to reiterate crime prevention and safety advice, said a police spokesman.

"International elements" are believed to be involved with the Haymarket bomb, Whitehall sources have told the BBC.

Police sources said the bomb would have caused "carnage" if it exploded.

Nightclubbers

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism command, said: "It is obvious that if the device had detonated there could have been serious injury or loss of life."

The ambulance had been called to the nightclub - where up to 1,700 people were inside - when they spotted what they thought was smoke, now believed to have been vapour released from the petrol.

Bomb experts manually disabled the "potentially viable explosive device".

Scotland Yard declined to comment on reports a mobile phone was found in the Mercedes at Haymarket that may have been intended to trigger the explosion.

One report claimed a police officer disconnected the mobile phone before bomb squad officers arrived.

Mobile phones have been used to detonate bombs in Iraq and Indonesia and in other terror attacks, such as the 2004 Madrid bombings.

The car bomb has echoes of other terror plots. Five men were jailed for life in April for a UK bomb plot linked to al-Qaeda that targeted a shopping centre and a nightclub with a giant fertiliser bomb.

And Dhiren Barot was jailed for life last November for conspiring to park limousines packed with gas canisters underneath high-profile buildings before detonating them.

DAC Clarke told a press conference it was too early to say who was responsible but the incident "resonated" with previous terror plots.

Alert

Speaking in Downing Street after meeting Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the new Home Office minister for security, Admiral Sir Alan West, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith urged members of the public to report anything suspicious to the police.

She said had the bomb detonated it would have caused "considerable loss of life."

Mr Brown said Britain faced "a serious and continuous threat" and the public "need to be alert" at all times.

The BBC's Andy Tighe said the timing of the car bomb was significant coming a day after Mr Brown became prime minister, and with the second anniversary of the 7 July bombings approaching.

The current terror threat level has been classed severe - one level lower than the highest "critical" - since 14 August 2006.

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

 

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