Ex­plo­sion on Lon­don sub­way in­jures 29; po­lice seek as­sailant

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY WIL­LIAM BOOTH, KARLA ADAM AND RICK NOACK

lon­don — Po­lice in Lon­don were search­ing for the as­sailant who det­o­nated a home­made bomb Friday that sent a scorch­ing blast of flame and smoke through a Lon­don sub­way car, in­jur­ing at least 29 rush-hour com­muters and send­ing pan­icked crowds scram­bling for safety in what po­lice called a ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent.

As of Friday evening, au­thor­i­ties had given no de­tails on pos­si­ble sus­pects. Se­cu­rity mea­sures were tight­ened across Lon­don’s vast mass-tran­sit net­work, and the govern­ment de­scribed the threat level as crit­i­cal, mean­ing

an­other at­tack could be im­mi­nent.

Bri­tish me­dia re­ported that the crude ex­plo­sive de­vice, car­ried in a bucket and shoved into a shop­ping bag, had a timer, sug­gest­ing that some de­gree of bomb­mak­ing knowl­edge was em­ployed.

The Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist group as­serted re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ex­plo­sion on its Amaq News Agency web­site. Ex­perts cau­tioned that the group of­ten seeks credit for at­tacks it may have only in­spired, as well as ones it had noth­ing to do with.

The ex­plo­sion on Lon­don’s Tube is bound to rekin­dle pointed de­bate about whether coun­tries such as Bri­tain have been tough enough in fight­ing ter­ror­ism. Just hours af­ter the blast, Pres­i­dent Trump sug­gested that Bri­tain needed to be “more proac­tive.” Shortly af­ter, Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May re­torted that such crit­i­cism was not help­ful.

“This was a de­vice in­tended to cause sig­nif­i­cant harm,” May said, but it re­mained un­clear whether the ex­plo­sive may have det­o­nated pre­ma­turely or mal­func­tioned at the Par­sons Green sta­tion, about three miles south­west of cen­tral Lon­don.

It was not cer­tain whether the bomber was among those hurt or was now on the run. In a sign that a man­hunt could be mo­bi­lized, Lon­don po­lice ap­pealed to the pub­lic to sub­mit cell­phone im­ages taken at the scene. Bri­tish me­dia said that in­ves­ti­ga­tors had im­ages of a sus­pect from closed-cir­cuit tele­vi­sion. The home­made de­vice blew up on the in­bound train, nine stops from West­min­ster, the seat of the Bri­tish govern­ment.

Af­ter the at­tack, Trump tweeted: “An­other at­tack in Lon­don by a loser ter­ror­ist. These are sick and de­mented peo­ple who were in the sights of Scot­land Yard. Must be proac­tive!”

It was un­clear whether Trump had been briefed by his se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers and knew some­thing of the iden­tity of the as­sailants. At the time, nei­ther the Lon­don po­lice nor the Bri­tish govern­ment had said any­thing pub­licly be­yond de­scrib­ing the det­o­na­tion as a sus- pected ter­ror­ist at­tack.

Fol­low­ing Trump’s tweets, and with­out men­tion­ing the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent by name, May said that it’s not “help­ful for any­body to spec­u­late on . . . an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Later, dur­ing a brief ap­pear­ance out­side the White House, Trump fur­ther ham­mered a hard­line mes­sage, say­ing: “We have to be very smart and we have to be very, very tough — per­haps we’re not nearly tough enough.”

Trump later called May to “con­vey his sym­pa­thies and prayers for those in­jured” and “pledged to con­tinue close col­lab­o­ra­tion” with Bri­tain to stop such at­tacks world­wide, the White House said in a state­ment.

Dur­ing a tu­mul­tuous elec­tion cam­paign that was in­ter­rupted by two ter­ror­ist at­tacks, the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter re­peat­edly promised harsh new mea­sures. May vowed that “if hu­man rights laws get in the way” of pro­tect­ing Bri­tain, she would change those laws.

At the time, ex­perts won­dered whether May’s tough talk could be matched by more ac­tion in a coun­try con­sid­ered one of the world’s most proac­tive on coun­tert­er­ror­ism.

“The threat is now so dif­fuse that it is un­clear how those mea­sures could be more ef­fec­tively used to pre­vent fu­ture at­tacks,” said Raf­faello Pan­tucci, di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity Stud­ies group at the Royal United Ser­vices In­sti­tute in Lon­don. “One of the few pos­si­bil­i­ties would be to im­pose harsher sen­tences for ter­ror-re­lated of­fenses, and that is cer­tainly some­thing be­ing con­sid­ered.”

“There are only so many things you can do, though,” he said. “I don’t think Bri­tons would want to have armed po­lice of­fi­cers on every street cor­ner.”

Shortly af­ter the ex­plo­sion, the right-wing, pop­ulist U.K. In­de­pen­dence Party, or UKIP, tweeted, “Thank good­ness no­body se­ri­ous hurt at #ParsonsGreen but we can­not rely on ji­hadist in­com­pe­tence.”

Au­thor­i­ties said the 29 in­jured largely suf­fered from flash burns. Emer­gency ser­vices said none of those hurt had life-threat­en­ing in­juries.

“We have hun­dreds of de­tec­tives in­volved look­ing at [closed­cir­cuit] TV, foren­sic work and speak­ing to wit­nesses,” said Mark Row­ley, head of Lon­don’s po­lice unit.

Par­sons Green is in Ful­ham, a neigh­bor­hood of Vic­to­rian row­houses and leafy parks known for its fur­ni­ture de­sign­ers and Cham- pi­ons League soc­cer.

Wit­nesses de­scribed a fire­ball and smoke rac­ing through the sub­way car, and then a fran­tic crush of peo­ple try­ing to flee while oth­ers at­tempted to aid those with burns and other in­juries.

Luke Walm­s­ley, 33, a film ed­i­tor, was on his way to work dur­ing a nor­mal morn­ing com­mute, lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. And then things were sud­denly not nor­mal.

“I heard a scream and then there was a flash, a light and smoke. I ac­tu­ally pulled my earplugs out, and then the screams got louder and louder,” he said, re­call­ing peo­ple run­ning to­ward him at the sta­tion.

“It was chaos. It was every man for him­self to get down the stairs, and it’s a very tight exit,” he said, de­scrib­ing in­jured peo­ple on the ground. “I went back to see if they were okay. Other peo­ple at­tended them, then there were nan­nies and moms ask­ing where their chil­dren were.”

He said peo­ple were help­ing oth­ers “who were shocked and burned, bot­tles of wa­ter be­ing poured over burns, quite se­vere burns, whole legs.”

In the months since May’s nar­row re­elec­tion, her govern­ment has come up with few new se­cu­rity pro­pos­als. Cities have in­vested in erect­ing bar­ri­ers or bol­lards to make it harder for ter­ror­ists to at­tack pop­u­lar pub­lic spa­ces. Ear counter ter­ror­ism lier this week, Lon­don po­lice de­ployed for the first time new high­tech nets laced with tung­sten steel spurs that can be placed on road­ways to stop ma­raud­ing ve­hi­cles as heavy as a dou­ble-decker bus.

“The ter­ror­ist threat now in­cludes un­so­phis­ti­cated at­tacks, such as stab­bings and ve­hi­cle ram­ming, where the plan­ning cy­cle is much shorter than it would oth­er­wise be,” said Ra­jan Basra, a re­searcher with the In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for the Study of Rad­i­cal­iza­tion, at King’s Col­lege in Lon­don. “This volatil­ity means that the au­thor­i­ties have to in­ter­vene a lot ear­lier.”

Friday’s ex­plo­sion was the fifth ter­ror­ist at­tack in Bri­tain this year. At least three of the at­tack­ers who struck Bri­tain this year were pre­vi­ously known to law en­force­ment of­fi­cials. Au­thor­i­ties have ac­knowl­edged that it is im­pos­si­ble to keep track of all sus­pects, and it is be­lieved that Bri­tish se­cu­rity ser­vices are con­stantly mon­i­tor­ing about 500 peo­ple. Ac­cord­ing to European Union of­fi­cials, the num­ber of Is­lamist ex­trem­ists in the coun­try could be up to 50 times that.

Lau­ren Hub­bard, 24, had just stepped on the Tube at Par­sons Green — the be­gin­ning of her morn­ing com­mute to her job in the fi­nan­cial dis­trict — when she felt in­tense heat. Then she saw flames bar­rel­ing to­ward her.

“I could see the fire,” she said. “I could feel the heat of it. At first you just panic, then you just run.”

Kate Llewellyn-Jones, 42, who lives next to the sta­tion, said she heard shout­ing and then a woman ran into her yard. She had lost her shoes in the stam­pede.

This thought struck many: Why at­tack here? Par­sons Green is not a tourist mag­net but a leafy en­clave.

“It feels very far away from the cen­ter,” Llewellyn-Jones said.

Af­ter the re­cent spate of at­tacks in Lon­don and Manch­ester, the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter was crit­i­cized by the op­po­si­tion for slash­ing lo­cal po­lice staffs.

On Thurs­day, Bri­tain’s Home Of­fice an­nounced that po­lice, us­ing broader au­thor­i­ties, had ar­rested a record 379 peo­ple for ter­ror­ism­re­lated of­fenses in the past months, an in­crease of al­most 70 per­cent.

Jennifer Has­san in Lon­don, Paul Schemm in Ad­dis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Brian Mur­phy and David Naka­mura in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port.

FRANK AUGSTEIN/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A foren­sics of­fi­cer in­ves­ti­gates the scene at Par­sons Green sub­way sta­tion in Lon­don af­ter a home­made bomb det­o­nated on a train car dur­ing the morn­ing rush hour. Po­lice called it a ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent.

KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Po­lice, foren­sics of­fi­cers and other emer­gency per­son­nel work in Lon­don near the Par­sons Green sub­way sta­tion. No one was killed in the ex­plo­sion there Friday morn­ing, but at least 29 were hurt.

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