Soldiers patrol London after subway attack
Failed bomb could have led to ‘ huge loss of life’
LON DON • Prime Minister Theresa May ordered troops on to the streets Friday night after a suspected Islamist placed a powerful time-bomb on a packed rush-hour train heading toward Westminster, in the heart of the historic capital city.
May made the decision after the independent Joint Terrorism Assessment Centre recommended raising the terror threat to its highest level, Critical, meaning another attack is believed to be imminent. The Army began deploying troops at key locations to free up police involved in a huge manhunt.
ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, which left more than 20 people injured when an improvised explosive device went off on a packed train at Parsons Green in southwest London. The main device, which was packed with shrapnel and fitted with a crude timer, failed to detonate, meaning potentially hundreds of lives were spared.
The device, which was in a 10-litre plastic bucket inside a white plastic supermarket bag, also appeared to have been covered with a black cloth, perhaps to try to mask the smell from any chemicals in the bucket and disguise what was inside.
Mercifully, the main explosive charge failed to go off. Police think the bomb may have accidentally detonated prematurely, with the vastly larger Westminster station the intended target. Sources said the bomb was packed with nuts, bolts and nails to cause maximum devastation when it exploded, similar to the one used by Salman Abedi in the suicide attack on the Manchester Arena earlier this year in which 22 people died.
Chaos ensued as hundreds of people, some of them suffering burns, poured from the train, which can hold up to 800 people.
“I ended up squashed on the staircase. People were falling over, people fainting, crying. There were little kids clinging onto the back of me,” said one commuter, Ryan Barnett.
Peter Crowley, a sales consultant, posted a picture on Twitter showing his charred scalp. “I heard a large bang from the doors on the other side of the Tube train and this fireball came towards my head and singed off all my hair,” said Crowley. “It was a really hot intense fireball above my head. I’ve just got red marks and burns to the top of my head. There were a lot of people a lot worse than me.”
He saw one man burnt across the side of his face while the whole of the back of his jacket was set alight.
Lauren Hubbard, who was in the last car of the train, heard a loud bang and saw a “fireball” racing toward her.
“It was hot and just came towards you, this flaming orange coming towards you. It smelt like burning,” she recalled, “We ran and hid behind cement boxes on the tracks and were the last people to get off the platform.”
She knew right away what was happening. “My first thought was: ‘ this is a terrorist attack, I’m going to die.’ ”
Images of the device, taken by quick- thinking passengers, showed a string of LED Christmas lights protruding from the top of the bucket, which one expert suggested could have been used as part of a crude timer mechanism. The lights, which would be attached to a battery and could be set to flash intermittently, would be used to deliver a charge into the detonator.
Theoretically, the bomber could have set the lights to flash on a delay, giving himself a short window in which to escape before the device detonated. But it is thought the detonator, which is usually made up of volatile or flammable materials, burst into flames prematurely, perhaps as a result of friction within the device caused by the moving train, or possibly because the bomber failed to get the correct mix of chemicals needed in order to complete the chain reaction needed for an explosion.
David Videcette, a former police counter- terrorism officer who investigated the socalled 7/7 attacks in July 2005 that killed 56 and injured nearly 800 people in London, said the IED appeared to have many similarities with previous devices.
He said: “In terms of scale this is bigger than the devices used in 7/7, so had it gone off successfully it would have caused huge loss of life.
“Whoever built this was not an amateur — it has many of the hallmarks of devices used by terror groups, but the use of the timer to set off the initial part of the device is something we have not seen before in the U.K.”
U. S. President Donald Trump seemed to accuse the police of errors, tweeting: “These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May gently rebuked the president for his tweets. “I never think it’s helpful for anybody to speculate on what is an ongoing investigation,” she said.
A picture obtained from the twitter user @RRigs shows a white container burning inside a London Underground tube carriage on Friday. British police are treating the incident as an act of terrorism.
A police officer inspects a London Tube train on Friday.