A dreadful carnage was averted early on Friday morning when officers of the Metropolitan Counter Terrorism Command defused a powerful bomb inside a stalled car in Haymarket, in the heart of London's West End. Had it exploded it would have caused "significant injury and loss of life," said police sources.
The car, a silver Mercedes, was found to contain two propane gas cylinders, 60 litres of petrol and six inch nails. It had apparently rammed into the kerb outside the 'Tiger, Tiger' nightclub. "Thank God we have police and explosives experts who can make these devices safe," said Defence Secretary, Des Browne. "Thank God nobody was injured."
Haymarket was immediately cordoned off, and Piccadilly tube station closed. Oxford Street was shut. The busy thoroughfare from Marble Arch to Hyde Park - along which the swankiest of the city's hotels and shopping malls lie - was sealed, causing major traffic disruptions. Security has been increased considerably around Wimbledon - where the tournament is currently on.
Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Clarke of the Anti-Terrorism Command maintained it was too premature to speculate on who might be responsible. Whitehall sources said there were indications of an international terrorist plot, while former head of the Flying Squad John O'Connor said the attacker was most likely to be a home-grown terrorist. It is known that 2000 suspects in Britain are under watch.
Some have speculated that terrorists were signalling to the new prime minister they were not afraid of him. "The first duty of a 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 continued security threat to our country," Gordon Brown told reporters.
Details of what really happened remained hazy. One report said two bouncers at 'Tiger, Tiger' were alerted by a passerby at around 2 am, who saw the light green Mercedes lose control. The driver ran off. Another report said the car was being driven erratically, and this drew attention of the people coming out of night clubs.
Two years ago, a series of coordinated bomb attacks in the city had killed 52 people.