London Car Bomb Plot Foiled UPDATE: 2nd Found
There’s too little public information to draw many conclusions about the car bomb plot that was foiled early this morning. Given the propensity of the British authorities and/or media to cry “Wolf” about plots that often tend to turn out to be much less developed than the initial hype led us to believe, it’s best to keep one’s powder dry.
TIME’s Catherine Mayer report strikes me as having the right tone:
A plot to bomb central London was foiled in the early hours of this morning, not by Scotland Yard or by the security services but by one of the world’s most effective counter-terrorism agents: luck. Ambulance attendants called to treat someone taken ill in the nightspot Tiger Tiger noticed that a silver-colored Mercedes parked just outside the club had filled with smoke. They went to investigate, assuming this must be a vehicle fire.
The bomb was made safe and its constituent parts taken away for forensic analysis, but for now the facts of the case remain enveloped in a smog of speculation and confusion. Early reports that the driver had crashed the car into a trash can outside Tiger Tiger, then abandoned the vehicle, have not been confirmed by officials. Scotland Yard’s Clarke said it was too early to say who might be behind the attack, but agreed that it “resonated with previous plots.”
The British media have quoted unnamed police sources saying that the bomb could have caused “carnage” if it had detonated, but it’s still far from clear how effective it would, in fact, have been. In 2002, bombers in Bali killed 200 night-clubbers and wounded hundreds more by detonating two separate devices, one to draw curious onlookers and a second that exploded in the midst of the assembled crowd. Dr. Peter Neumann, the director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College, London, told TIME that, based on the limited information available about this morning’s car bomb, he didn’t think it could have brought down a building, not least because the device would have been too small. “In the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, there you had a huge truck loaded with explosives parked under the World Trade Center, so much better placed, and a much better load. And it still didn’t bring down the World Trade Center.”
Neumann is also skeptical of speculation that the bomb was the work of al-Qaeda. “You would expect them to use far more sophisticated devices,” such as the peroxide-based bombs deployed in the Madrid and London bombings and across North Africa, “which require some skill to put together.”
Time will tell, of course.
UPDATE: Then again . . . they’ve now found a second car bomb.
The first car bomb, found near Piccadilly Circus, was powerful enough to have caused “significant injury or loss of life” at a time when hundreds were in the area, British anti-terror police chief Peter Clarke said. British anti-terror police chief Peter Clarke said Friday evening that the second car was originally parked in same area, but had been towed to an impound lot. “The vehicle was found to contain very similar materials to those that had been found in the first car,” he said. “There was a considerable amount of fuel and gas canisters. As in the first vehicle, there was also a quantity of nails. This like the first device was potentially viable.”
The discoveries came just ahead of the second anniversary of the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings that killed 52 people on three London subways and a bus.
“We are currently facing the most serious and sustained threat to our security from international terrorism,” Britain’s new home secretary, Jacqui Smith, said after an emergency meeting of top officials.
Stay tuned. You may recall that, in the story of the “Little Boy Who Cried Wolf,” there ultimately was a wolf. . . .