/ 29 June 2007

British police defuse bomb in London

British police defused a bomb in a parked car in London’s theatre district on Friday and launched a counter-terrorism investigation. Sky News quoted unidentified sources as saying the bomb was ”potentially massive”.

The bomb was found hours after new Prime Minister Gordon Brown named his Cabinet succeeding Tony Blair, who stepped down after a decade in office.

The government’s top emergency committee, Cobra, was due to meet on Friday to review the situation, a government spokesperson said.

Explosives officers were called to examine a car parked in Haymarket, a busy street in the tourist heart of central London, where many popular theatres are located, early on Friday morning, London police said in a statement.

”They discovered what appeared to be a potentially viable explosive device. This was made safe,” they said, adding that counter-terrorism officers were investigating.

A police spokesperson confirmed the device was a bomb.

London has frequently been on alert for potential attacks since July 7 2005, when 52 commuters were killed by bombs on the capital’s transport system in the first Islamist suicide bombings in Western Europe.

‘Canister’ seen in car

Police threw blue tarpaulin over the vehicle in Haymarket, which appeared to be a silver Mercedes, and closed off the surrounding area, causing heavy traffic congestion. Workers, blocked from getting to their offices in the street, milled around.

A police officer at the scene said witnesses had seen the vehicle driving erratically before crashing into some bins outside a nightclub in the early hours of Friday. The driver got out and ran away, they said.

Bouncers from the nightclub saw something in the car that looked like a canister and called police, the officer said.

Newly appointed Justice Secretary Jack Straw said the government had been told about the bomb earlier on Friday morning. The security services ”should be allowed to get on with their job with public confidence”, he told BBC radio.

Police responded after members of the public reported a suspicious vehicle shortly before 2am local time. The street was sealed off while police investigated. It is likely to remain closed for the foreseeable future, they said.

A London Transport spokesperson said Piccadilly underground station was closed and some bus services were also affected.

Haymarket is usually thronged with Londoners and tourists. It is close to Piccadilly Circus in an area packed with theatres, restaurants and pubs. — Reuters