Friday, June 29, 2007

Two Explosive-Laden Cars in London Linked

Story Highlights
• NEW: Anti-terror chief: "These vehicles are clearly linked"
• Two vehicles loaded with fuel and nails safely removed
• Police hunt driver who abandoned explosives-packed car outside nightclub
• Bomb could have resulted in serious loss of life, anti-terror chief says

CNN reports:

As authorities were investigating an explosives-packed car discovered outside a nightclub near Piccadilly Circus on Friday, a second vehicle was found in London that had similar explosive material inside, security sources said.

Both cars were laden with large amounts of fuel, gas canisters and "a substantial quantity of nails," British police anti-terror chief Peter Clarke said.

"These vehicles are clearly linked," he said.

The second car had been parked underground near Trafalgar Square in an area where parking was not allowed.

Workers towed it to a lot on Park Lane near Buckingham Palace and thought it smelled of gasoline. Given the reports that gas canisters were among the explosive material found in the other car, they became suspicious, security sources said.

Authorities then blocked off a section of Park Lane while they examined the car and discovered the material.

Earlier Friday, a section of Fleet Street also was cordoned off briefly, then reopened without incident.

Inside the first car near Piccadilly Circus, a device was found loaded with fuel, gas cylinders and nails, said security sources, and it was set up for remote detonation.

Security sources said the "relatively crude device" contained at least 200 liters, or about 50 gallons, of fuel in canisters.

Police said the car was found shortly before 2 a.m. Friday and deactivated. The device could have caused huge numbers of casualties, police said.

Clarke said detectives were examining security camera footage for clues to the driver of the vehicle.

The incident renewed fears of a terrorist strike almost two years after London's transport network was hit by suicide bombers.

Security sources with knowledge of the investigation said a cell phone was found as part of the first device, but it was not immediately clear whether it was to be used as a detonator or timer, or in some other way.

Clarke said the car was discovered when a quick-thinking ambulance crew noticed it was filled with smoke outside the popular Tiger Tiger nightclub.

Explosives officers discovered the fuel and nails attached to a "potential means of detonation" inside the vehicle. Officers "courageously" disabled the trigger by hand, Clarke said.

"Even at this stage it is obvious that if the device had detonated, there could have been severe injuries and loss of life," Clarke said. He said it was too early to say who was responsible.

Witness Daniel Weir said he was walking home from work when he noticed police had cordoned off the area around the nightclub and a nearby vehicle.

He snapped several photos, including one that showed a canister labeled "patio gas." (See the photos)

"If I had known what was actually ... going on, I don't think I would have been hanging about," he told CNN hours later.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, appointed two days earlier in a transition of power seen as a potential spur for extremists to mount an attack, said the incident was a reminder of the dangers facing the country. (Full story)

Brown, whose predecessor Tony Blair's support of the Iraq war provoked anger among Islamic militants, said Britain faced "a serious and continuous threat" and the public needs to be alert at all times.

The incident came a little more than a week before the second anniversary of July 7, 2005, when four Islamic extremist suicide bombers killed 52 people and injured hundreds more on London's transport system in the deadliest strike on the city since World War II.

'Rude awakening'

CNN international security correspondent Paula Newton said the Piccadilly Circus bomb was potentially aimed at theatergoers or nightclubbers, echoing plots recently thwarted by anti-terror police in which Islamic militants intended to attack prominent dance venues and shopping malls.

London has a long history of bomb attacks and alerts during decades of violence mounted by Northern Irish guerrilla groups. Lone attackers also have previously targeted the city's gay and immigrant communities. (Timeline of attacks)

Friday's incident could prove to be the first major test for Brown, a former finance minister, who has only just appointed his Cabinet, including new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, in charge of domestic security.

"For Gordon Brown, it is a rude awakening to the realities you take on as prime minister," CNN's European political editor Robin Oakley said.

Smith on Friday attended a meeting of Britain's so-called Cobra emergency committee -- consisting of intelligence and security chiefs -- and later briefed Brown's Cabinet.

"As the police and security services have frequently said, we face one of the most serious and sustained threats to our security at the moment," Smith told reporters.

Police later said they were deploying an enhanced presence to provide extra security across the capital, but said the reinforcements were not in response to a specific incident.