Police search for suspect after London blast
Bombing in subway station injured dozens, was claimed by Daesh on its website
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 rushhour 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 masstransit network, and the government described the threat level as critical, meaning another attack could be imminent.
British media reported that the crude device, carried in a bucket and shoved into a shopping bag, had a timer, suggesting that some degree of bomb-making knowledge was employed.
Daesh claimed responsibility for the explosion on its Amaq news website. Experts cautioned that the group often seeks credit for attacks it may have 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 fighting terrorism. Just hours after the blast, U.S. President Donald Trump suggested the United Kingdom 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 was-unclear whether the explosive may have detonated prematurely or malfunctioned at the Parsons Green station, about five kilometres southwest of central London.
It was not certain whether the suspected 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 closed-circuit television images of a suspect. The homemade device blew up on the inbound train, nine stops from Westminster.
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 offences, 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 (closed-circuit) TV, forensic work and speaking to witnesses,” said Mark Rowley, head of London’s police counterterrorism unit.
Parsons Green is in Fulham, a neighbourhood of Victorian row houses and leafy parks, known for its furniture designers and professional soccer clubs.
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 OK. 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.”