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London On Terror Alert After Police Thwart Attack; London car bomb sparks terror alerts

(Times Online) London escaped what could have been its worst terrorist attack this morning when a car bomb packed with nails, gas canisters and containers of petrol apparently failed to detonate outside a popular West End nightclub hosting a ‘ladies’ night’.  The discovery of the bomb, which was manually defused by officers, left the city on a heightened state of alert. This afternoon an area stretching from Marble Arch to Hyde Park Corner was closed off and nearby buildings including the Dorchester Hotel evacuated while police examined another suspicious car.  Police were called to the Tiger Tiger nightclub on Haymarket near Piccadilly Circus shortly before 2am when smoke was seen coming from the inside of a Mercedes parked outside. Unconfirmed reports said that a man had been seen running away from the vehicle.  Inside, officers discovered “significant quantities” of petrol, believed to be 60 litres, plus nails and gas cylinders. They used a remote-controlled device to check the vehicle, which was parked in Haymarket, before bomb squad officers made it safe.  If the device had exploded, police said that the shrapnel would have killed or injured anyone within a wide area. The bomb could have caused a fireball as big as a house followed by a large shock wave.  In a press conference called to discuss the attempted Haymarket attack, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, said: “It is obvious that if the device had detonated there could have been significant injury or loss of life.”  The incident came on Gordon Brown’s second full day in 10 Downing Street, marking his first real test as Prime Minister. Mr Brown hosted a Cabinet meeting today and said before the session that he would remind his ministers that “vigilance must be maintained”.  At his press conference about the attempted attack at Haymarket, Mr Clarke said that police had initially been notified about the car when an ambulance crew called to attend to an unrelated incident in the Tiger Tiger club saw smoke coming from the car.  “The police were called and Metropolitan Police explosives officers went to the scene and examined the car,” he told a press conference.  “In the car they found significant quantities of petrol together with a number of gas cylinders.  “I cannot tell you how much petrol, because we have not had a chance to measure it but I can tell you that it was in several large containers. There were also a large number of nails in the vehicle.  “It is appropriate for me to pay tribute to the courage and skill of the explosives officers who manually disabled the device – and in so doing not only did their actions prevent injury and loss of property, but has given us the opportunity to gather forensic evidence.”  Today the area directly around the bar was closed off all morning by officers as they checked the vehicle, which was later taken away for further examination. Piccadilly Circus station was also closed, although it was reopened at lunchtime.  Whitehall sources said that the police and security services are looking at possible international links to the Haymarket plot, including similarities to car bombs used by insurgents in Iraq.  “It is entirely possible. There are various things – it is outside a nightclub, it is a vehicle-borne device, it is close to the anniversary of the July 7 attacks,” one source said. “But we are keeping an open mind.”  Terry Neil, managing director of TSS, the firm which provides doormen for Tiger Tiger club, said that his bouncers had also called the police before promptly evacuating the premises.  “If it wasn’t for their awareness, it could have been sat there outside a club with 1,000 people in it. It’s a very busy road,” he said.  Mr Neil added that the club’s cameras are “absolutely everwhere” around the club. “If you look at where it is, the camera should pick him up getting out of the car. It shouldn’t be long before they start putting out images.”  A massive manhunt began for the driver of the Haymarket vehicle, with police trawling through CCTV footage from the club and nearby streets.  In addition to their Haymarket investigation today, police were thought to be conducting a huge operation around other London landmarks – including Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament – to search for other potential devices.  Congestion charge cameras situated throughout central London are also capable of tracking where the car came from, and which routes it took.  Terror groups like al-Qaeda are believed to have been planning attacks on nightclubs, which are considered by Islamic fundamentalists to be symbols of Western decadence.  Earlier this year, a number of Islamist extremist terrorists were imprisoned for planning several major terror attacks, including a bomb attack on London’s Ministry of Sound nightclub. Islamist extremists have in the past talked about particularly targeting women, whose attendance at nightclubs they say they particularly loathe. In that regard, the fact that Tiger Tiger was holding a ‘ladies’ night,’ complete with female DJ, would have meant a particularly large number of women were inside the club.  Tiger Tiger is a combined bar, restaurant and nightclub, part of a wider national chain, that opens from midday until the early hours of the morning. It has several floors, and is believed to have a capacity of over 1,000 – although staff said that only around 650 were in the club at the time of the incident.  Today’s Cabinet meeting was briefed by Jacqui Smith, the new Home Secretary, who first chaired a session of Cobra, the Government’s emergency civil contingencies committee.  This morning, before the Cabinet meeting, Mr Brown said: “The first duty of the Government is the security of the people and as the police and security services have said on so many occasions we face a serious and continuous threat to our country.  “We should allow the police to investigate this incident and then report to us. But this incident does recall the need for us to be vigilant at all times and the public to be alert at any potential incidents.  “I will stress to the Cabinet that the vigilance must be maintained over the next few days”.  Leaving Downing Street a few hours later, Ms Smith added: “We are currently facing the most serious and sustained threat to our security from international terrorism. This latest incident reinforces the need for the public to remain vigilant and alert to the threat that we face at all times.”  The attempted attack comes as the current terror threat against the UK is assessed as “severe,” the second highest level, meaning that intelligence analysts consider an attack highly likely. The highest level, “critical”, means that an attack is expected imminently.  Earlier this month security spot checks were introduced on petrol and chemical tankers, cement mixers – and other vehicles that could be used by suicide bombers – on key routes into London.  That reflects increasing concern in the security services that UK terrorists might copy tactics used to deadly effect by insurgents in Iraq.  Bombers in Baghdad have blown themselves up in hijacked petrol tankers and, in at least three attacks this year, have used chlorine gas canisters in lorry bombs.  The checks follow a warning this year by Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, that “vehicle-borne weaponry is the greatest danger that we can face”. But Scotland Yard said on June 6 that it had no specific intelligence to suggest that a lorry-bomb attack was imminent.  The Metropolitan Police’s Counter-Terrorism Command set up the checks as a precautionary measure but they were then incorporated into Operation Mermaid, a long-running operation aimed at ensuring vehicle safety.  An al-Qaeda terrorist convicted last year had been planning vehicle-borne bomb attacks in London when he was arrested. Dhiren Barot pleaded guilty to plotting a series of attacks, including detailed plans to pack stretch limousines with gas cylinders and explosives and detonate them in car parks beneath hotels or office blocks.

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June 29, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror

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