Sol­diers pa­trol London af­ter sub­way at­tack

Failed bomb could have led to ‘ huge loss of life’

National Post (Latest Edition) - - WORLD - ROBERT MENDICK MARTIN EVANS, BEN FARMER, VIC­TO­RIA WARD AND STEVE BIRD

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.

AFP PHOTO / HANDOUT

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.

FRANK AUGSTEIN / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A po­lice of­fi­cer in­spects a London Tube train on Fri­day.

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