herald

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Manhunt for 'bucket bomber' after botched attack on train

In this aerial image made from video, forensic officers work at the Parsons Green Underground Station after an explosion. A reported explosion at a train station sent commuters stampeding in panic, injuring several people at the height of London's morning rush hour, and police said they were investigating it as a terrorist attack. Photo: AP
In this aerial image made from video, forensic officers work at the Parsons Green Underground Station after an explosion. A reported explosion at a train station sent commuters stampeding in panic, injuring several people at the height of London's morning rush hour, and police said they were investigating it as a terrorist attack. Photo: AP

Hundreds of British police embarked on a massive manhunt to find out who placed a homemade bomb on a packed London subway train during the morning rush hour.

An Irish person was among the 29 people injured in the explosion - labelled a terrorist attack by police, the fifth this year. Experts said London may have escaped far worse carnage because it appeared that the bomb only partially exploded.

"Clearly, this was a device that was intended to cause significant harm," British Prime Minister Theresa May said after chairing a meeting of the government's Cobra emergency committee.

Witnesses described seeing a "wall of fire" as the bomb - hidden in a plastic bucket inside a supermarket freezer bag - went off about 8.20am, while the train was at the Parsons Green station in south-west London.

Police and health officials said none of the injured was thought to be seriously hurt.

An injured woman is led away. Photo: Reuters
An injured woman is led away. Photo: Reuters

The Metropolitan Police force said there had been no arrests so far, but hundreds of detectives, aided by intelligence agents, were looking at surveillance camera footage of the subway, carrying out forensic work and speaking to witnesses.

Danger

It is not clear whether the device was intended to explode when it did. The site of the blast was in a leafy, affluent part of the city, not near any of London's top tourist sites. British media reported that the bomb included a timer.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said: "We can confirm one Irish person was injured in the attack."

The victim was offered consular assistance by the department but refused the offer as it was believed the injury was minor. Photos taken inside the train show a white plastic bucket inside a foil-lined shopping bag. Flames and what appear to be wires emerge from the top.

Terrorism analyst Magnus Ranstorp of the Swedish Defence University said that, from the pictures, it appeared the bomb did not fully detonate, as much of the device and its casing remained intact.

Forensic investigators search on the platform at Parsons Green tube station. Photo: Reuters
Forensic investigators search on the platform at Parsons Green tube station. Photo: Reuters

"They were really lucky with this one. It could have really become much worse," he said.

Police were alerted when commuters reported a noise and a flash on the District Line train. Commuter Lauren Hubbard was on the train when she heard a loud bang.

"I looked around and this wall of fire was just coming towards us. You just run," said Hubbard, who fled the above-ground station with her boyfriend. Others described "absolute chaos" as hundreds rushed to flee the danger.

"I ended up squashed on the staircase. People were falling over, fainting, crying. There were little kids clinging on to the back of me," said Ryan Barnett (25).

Mark Rowley, head of counter-terrorism for the Metropolitan Police, said: "This was a detonation of an improvised explosive device."

He said 18 people had been injured, most with "flash burns". Health officials later said four others hurt in the bombing went to the hospital themselves.

Handout photo taken with permission from the Twitter feed of @cupid5tunt of his charred hair after Scotland Yard declared a terrorist incident following a blast which sent a
Handout photo taken with permission from the Twitter feed of @cupid5tunt of his charred hair after Scotland Yard declared a terrorist incident following a blast which sent a "fireball" and a "wall of flame" through a packed London Underground train. Photo: PA Wire

Rowley said Britain's domestic intelligence service, MI5, was helping with the investigation, led by the police counter-terrorism unit. He gave no information about potential suspects, saying "It's very much a live investigation."

US President Donald Trump tweeted that it was another attack "by a loser terrorist," adding: "These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard."

Police declined to comment on Mr Trump's suggestion that it knew about the attacker.

Witness Chris Wildish said that he saw "out of the corner of my eye, a massive flash of flames that went up the side of the train," followed by "an acrid chemical smell".

He said many of those on board were schoolchildren, knocked around as the crowd surged away from the fireball.

Trains were suspended along a stretch of the line, and several homes evacuated as police set up a 50-metre cordon around the scene.

Destroy

London mayor Sadiq Khan said the city "utterly condemns the hideous individuals who attempt to use terror to harm us and destroy our way of life".

Mrs May said Britain's official threat level from terrorism remained at "critical," meaning an attack is highly likely.

The threat level was briefly raised to critical, meaning an attack may be imminent, after the May 22 suicide bombing at Manchester Arena killed 22 people.

Yesterday's attack is the fourth in London this year, after deadly vehicle attacks near Parliament, on London Bridge and near a mosque in north London.

British authorities say they have foiled 19 plots since the middle of 2013, six of them since a van and knife attack on Westminster Bridge and Parliament in March, which killed five people.

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