Threat level up af­ter at­tack

‘Crit­i­cal’ sta­tus means another at­tack may be im­mi­nent in U.K.

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jill Law­less and Gre­gory Katz

LONDON » A homemade bomb planted in a rush­hour sub­way car ex­ploded in London on Fri­day, in­jur­ing 29 peo­ple and prompt­ing au­thor­i­ties to raise Bri­tain’s ter­ror­ism threat level to “crit­i­cal,” mean­ing another at­tack may be im­mi­nent.

The early morn­ing blast sparked a huge man­hunt for the per­pe­tra­tors of what po­lice said was the fourth ter­ror­ist at­tack in the Bri­tish cap­i­tal this year.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, act­ing on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Joint Ter­ror­ism Anal­y­sis Cen­ter, raised the coun­try’s threat level from “se­vere” to “crit­i­cal” — its high­est pos­si­ble level. May said mil­i­tary troops would aug­ment the po­lice pres­ence in a “pro­por­tion­ate and sen­si­ble step.”

Ear­lier, May said the de­vice had been “in­tended to cause sig­nif­i­cant harm.”

Still, to the re­lief of au­thor­i­ties and Lon­don­ers, ex­perts said the bomb — hid­den in a plas­tic bucket in­side a su­per­mar­ket freezer bag — only par­tially ex­ploded, spar­ing the city much worse carnage.

“I would say this was a failed high-ex­plo­sive de­vice,” Chris Hunter, a for­mer Bri­tish army bomb ex­pert, said of the blast, which caused no se­ri­ous in­juries.

The Is­lamic State group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack, which it said was car­ried out by an af­fil­i­ated unit.

The bomb went off around 8:20 a.m. as the train, car­ry­ing com­muters from the sub­urbs — in­clud­ing many school chil­dren — was at Par­sons Green sta­tion in the south­west of the city.

Wit­ness Chris Wild­ish told Sky News that he

saw “out of the cor­ner of my eye, a mas­sive flash of flames that went up the side of the train,” fol­lowed by “an acrid chem­i­cal smell.”

Com­muter Lau­ren Hub­bard said she was on the train when she heard a loud bang.

“I looked around and this wall of fire was just com­ing to­ward us,” Hub­bard said. She said her in­stinct was “just run,” and she fled the above-ground sta­tion with her boyfriend.

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 another com­muter, Ryan Bar­nett.

Pas­sen­ger Luke Walm­s­ley said it was “like ev­ery man for him­self to get down the stairs.”

“Peo­ple were just push­ing,” he added. “There were nan­nies or mums ask­ing where their chil­dren were.”

Po­lice and health of­fi­cials said 29 peo­ple were treated in London hos­pi­tals, most of them for flash burns. None of the in­juries were se­ri­ous or life-threat­en­ing, the emer­gency ser­vices said.

Trains were sus­pended along a stretch of the Un­der­ground’s Dis­trict Line, and sev­eral homes were evac­u­ated as po­lice set up a 50-me­ter (150-foot) cor­don around the scene while they se­cured the de­vice and launched a search for those who planted it.

The Metropoli­tan Po­lice said hun­dreds of de­tec­tives, along with agents of the do­mes­tic spy agency MI5, were look­ing at sur­veil­lance cam­era footage, car­ry­ing out foren­sic work and speak­ing to wit­nesses.

Speak­ing to re­porters late Fri­day, As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner Mark Row­ley said po­lice were mak­ing “good progress” and that the public should be re­as­sured that more po­lice and troops will be on the streets.

“We are only aware of one de­vice,” he said. “We have rem­nants of that de­vice. We are chas­ing down sus­pects.” He re­fused to pro­vide fur­ther de­tails, ex­cept to say the bomb in­volved the “det­o­na­tion of an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice.”

Among the ques­tions au­thor­i­ties were seek­ing to an­swer: What was the de­vice made from, and was it meant to go off when it did, in a leafy, af­flu­ent part of the city far from London’s top tourist sites?

Bri­tish me­dia re­ported that the bomb in­cluded a timer. Lewis Her­ring­ton, a ter­ror­ism ex­pert at Lough­bor­ough Uni­ver­sity, said that would set it apart from sui­cide at­tacks like those on the London sub­way in 2005 or at Manch­ester Arena in May, in which the at­tack­ers “all wanted to die.”

Pho­tos taken in­side the train showed a white plas­tic bucket in­side a foil-lined shop­ping bag, with flames and what ap­peared to be wires emerg­ing from the top.

Ter­ror­ism an­a­lyst Mag­nus Ranstorp of the Swedish De­fense Uni­ver­sity said that from the pho­tos it ap­peared the bomb did not fully det­o­nate, as much of the de­vice and its cas­ing re­mained in­tact.

“They were re­ally lucky with this one, it could have re­ally be­come much worse,” he said.

Hunter, the ex­plo­sives ex­pert, said it ap­peared that “there was a bang, a bit of a flash, and that would sug­gest that, po­ten­tially, some of the ex­plo­sive det­o­nated, the det­o­na­tor det­o­nated, but much of the ex­plo­sive was ef­fec­tively in­ert.”

Po­lice and am­bu­lances were on the scene within min­utes of the blast, a tes­ta­ment to their ex­pe­ri­ence at re­spond­ing to vi­o­lent at­tacks in London. The city has been a tar­get for decades: from Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army bombers, rightwing ex­trem­ists and, more re­cently, at­tack­ers in­spired by al-Qaida or the Is­lamic State group.

Bri­tain has seen four other ter­ror­ist at­tacks this year, which killed a to­tal of 36 peo­ple. The other at­tacks in London — near Par­lia­ment, on London Bridge and near a mosque in Fins­bury Park in north London — used ve­hi­cles and knives. Sim­i­lar meth­ods have been used in at­tacks across Europe, in­clud­ing in Nice, Stock­holm, Berlin and Barcelona.

The last time the coun­try’s threat level was raised to crit­i­cal, was af­ter the May 22 sui­cide bomb­ing at Manch­ester Arena that killed 22 peo­ple.

Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties say they have foiled 19 plots since the mid­dle of 2013, six of them since the van and knife at­tack on West­min­ster Bridge and Par­lia­ment in March, which killed five peo­ple. Po­lice and MI5 say that at any given time they are run­ning about 500 coun­tert­er­ror­ism in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­volv­ing 3,000 in­di­vid­u­als.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said there had been a “shift” in the ter­ror­ism threat, with at­tack­ers us­ing a wide range of meth­ods to try to in­flict carnage. Khan, who be­longs to the op­po­si­tion Labour Party, said London po­lice needed more re­sources to fight the threat. Po­lice bud­gets have been cut since 2010 by Bri­tain’s Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment.

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