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’.
Hint: Despite this, it wasn’t the Chinese.
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.
Hint: Despite the make of car, it wasn’t zee Germans.
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”.
Hint: Despite that, it wasn’t the Blairites.
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.”
Hint: it wasn’t the civil liberties crowd:
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.”
That’s one thing Iraq doesn’t have!
Before leaving this morning, Peter, peering at the morning’s headlines over my shoulder, “I can’t help but noticing that Britain seems to have had more problems since 9/11 than we have.”