Report: Car bomb found in London; Update: A crude fuel-air bomb?

Just waking up to this. “An eyewitness said a man had crashed the vehicle into bins near a nightclub and then ran off.” Gasoline, gas canisters, and that old favorite — nails — were found in the car, along with “a potentially explosive device.” Presumably it’s meant as some sort of opening salvo at Gordon Brown, although a nightclub seems an odd choice of targets for that.

Stand by for lots and lots of updates, no doubt.

Update: “These things happen.”

Update: The Beeb has been told that “international elements” are suspected. And no wonder:

This type of car bombing plot is typical of other British Jihadist car bomb plots in the past, including both the July 2005 bomb plots, and the Dhiren Barot Jihadist group bomb plots.

— In July 2005, a number of bombs and components, some packed with nails to cause death and maximum injury, were recovered from a car parked by the July 7 bombers at Luton station.

— British Jihadist Dhiren Barot pleaded guilty to plotting a series of attacks, including detailed plans to explode limousines packed with gas cylinders, explosives and nails after leaving them in underground London parking garages or hotels.

The target isn’t so strange either, according to the Daily Mail: a nightclub in Southwark was on the hit list of the AQ jihadis convicted in Britain earlier this year. The club in this case, the Tiger Tiger, apparently has a capacity of 1,700 people. And last night was ladies’ night.

There are photos at that last link; the manhunt for the driver is on, aided no doubt by Britain’s eight trillion security cameras. Might be a good time to revisit this post from December.

Update: The Times of London quotes nightclub staffers as saying there were about 650 people there last night. Chances are good that they’ve got the suspect on tape: “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.'” They might also be able to trace the car’s route using other cameras.

Update: They’re checking around London for other devices, of course, coordinated attacks being a favorite of AQ. Here’s something odd:

The incident, near Piccadilly, began when an ambulance was called to a nightclub at around 1am to treat a person who had fallen ill. The ambulance crew noticed a Mercedes parked outside the club, and saw the vehicle appeared to have smoke inside it…

Earlier, witnesses said they saw the light metallic green saloon car being driven erratically. It then crashed into bins before the driver ran away.

No one thought to call the cops originally, after the car crashed into the bins and the driver took off? Also, why didn’t the driver ram the car into the building itself? That fact, plus the fact that the bomb itself looks to have been the work of “keen amateurs” makes me think it’s probably a homegrown guy or group “inspired” by terrorist ideology and getting pointers off the Internet:

Patio gas cylinders found by police in the light green Mercedes would have been an unlikely weapon for experienced terrorists unless they wanted to create a fireball for the cameras, Sidney Alford, founder of explosives company Alford Technologies, told Guardian Unlimited.

As a readily available combustible material, the propane gas held in such cylinders might be considered by someone unable to source high explosives…

A witness reported nails were lying on the floor of the car, which Mr Alford said was another indication the bomb makers were inexperienced.

“Nails could be considered as an additional way of extending the potential damage and lethal range of the device but putting them on the floor is an incompetent way of building a bomb. They would go straight into the ground,” he said.

Update: The Independent has excellent background on the “gas limo” plot mentioned above that might have inspired this attack. It was masterminded by now-jailed AQ plotter Dhiren Barot, who you might remember for his creepy surveillance video of the World Trade Center. According to the Independent, the gasoline plot was Barot’s attempt to emulate the Madrid bombings. Details:

Barot detailed his proposals in a document entitled “Rough Presentation For Gas Limos Projects”, which was found by police…

He wrote: “Gas can, within certain perimeters, be employed to cause large scale damage to structures since many of them, gas types, are by nature, extremely flammable as well as explosive.”

The chilling document said many different types of gases available on the market were considered, although the “final choice” was narrowed down to propane, butane, acetylene and oxygen.

He concluded that gas explosions from cylinders, if carefully orchestrated, could be as powerful as TNT…

In a passage on petrol, he pointed out that as well as being legally available at forecourts, petrol cans could be filled with sharp metal nails during an attack to maximise damage.

Needless to say, don’t be surprised if that document turns out to have been the “inspiration” for today’s amateur.

Update: “If reports that it contained home-made explosive are correct, it would most likely be a hydrogen peroxide mixture as used in the July 7 atrocities, although a small ‘fertiliser bomb’ made of ammonium nitrate cannot be ruled out.”

Update: A security source claims it’s “entirely possible” that the suspect had links to jihadis in Iraq or elsewhere, but if this really was an international plot timed to send the new prime minister a message, it surely would have been more effective than this. Multiple bombers, professional explosives, etc. The explosive here appears to have been 60 liters of gasoline sitting on the back seat. You can catch a glimpse of it, or of something, in this screencap at the Sun.

Curious, or perhaps not so curious, detail: despite the fact that there’s a massive manhunt on for the suspect and eyewitnesses saw him running from the car, no description of him has been published thus far as far as I can tell.

Update: Hmmm. Sky News is reporting that Park Lane has been closed now due to another suspicious vehicle, but it may simply be out of an abundance of caution. One of the articles I read earlier said they’d done the same thing with another car earlier but it appears to have been a false alarm. Fox is saying now that cops have stopped a double decker bus.

Update: MSNBC had to be dragged to this story kicking and screaming. Surprise.

Update: It’s 10:30 and Fox is reporting that Hyde Park is being evacuated. All of these alarms are probably false, of course, but they’re obviously taking the threat of a coordinated attack extremely seriously.

Update: Sky is reporting by way of Fox that the suspicious vehicle in Park Lane that’s caused the evacuation of Hyde Park is a double-decker bus. The suspect, or *a* suspect, must be on board and they naturally figure he may be wired. Recall that of the four bombs detonated on 7/7/05, the last was aboard a double-decker. Update: Wait, no, hold the phone. According to the Telegraph, the vehicle in Park Lane is a car. The double-decker is a separate lead. According to Sky, it’s the Park Lane car that’s linked to the nightclub bomb. Not sure where the bus figures into this.

Update: I’m officially confused. The would-be bomber drove “erratically” down the street, smashed into some garbage bins, got out and ran away — because he planned to detonate the bomb by cell phone? That’s what Sky is reporting but it makes zero sense. If you’re going to detonate by remote, you’d want to be as unobtrusive as possible so as not to alarm people and have them flee the area or call the bomb squad. Was this guy drunk during the attack? Meanwhile, it’s still not clear if there were any explosives in the car or just the gas tanks. Biiig difference in terms of blast power.

Update: The Kossacks are already busy proving their left-wing terror-fighting superpowers by scoffing at the threat. As for this:

Hours before London explosives technicians dismantled a large car bomb in the heart of the British capital’s tourist-rich theater district, a message appeared on one of the most widely used jihadist Internet forums, saying: “Today I say: Rejoice, by Allah, London shall be bombed.”

Don’t they leave messages like that every day?

Update: Sky has details up now of why they thought it was a cell-phone bomb. Did a hero cop save the day?

Sky News sources say one of the first police officers on the scene of the London West End car bomb may have saved dozens of lives by diffusing the explosives before the bomb squad arrived.

It is believed the quick-thinking cop recognised that the car was wired to blow up, jumped in and disconnected the trigger device, thought to be a mobile phone.

This backs up an eye-witness account of a police officer briefly entering the metallic green Mercedes before running for cover.

Still makes no sense. The driver wouldn’t have careened down the street if this was a cell-phone bomb and he surely wouldn’t have left the cell phone in his haste to get away and detonate it if it was.

Update: The plot thickens. According to Sky, the cops are now looking at a third suspicious vehicle, this one on Fleet Street. A police presser’s set to start at any minute.

Update: Time says that British officials have yet to confirm the story about the car swerving down the street into the trash and the driver running away. It must be apocryphal. The cell-phone thing and the fact that no description of the suspect has been released makes no sense otherwise. Time also confirms that the bomb appears to have been amateurish, which makes the Daily Mail’s claim of an Al Qaeda cell at work that much more dubious.

Update: Danger Room thinks this might (note: might) have been a crude attempt at a very sophisticated weapon — a fuel-air bomb that packs enormous explosive power due to the unusually length of the blast. Maybe this is the equivalent of Iraqo jihadis using chlorine bombs to crudely replicate chemical weapons.

Update: ABC describes the scene as the bomb squad arrived:

Calling the device a “significant bomb,” bomb technicians first approached the car with a robot. The smoke inside the car was so thick that the robot’s camera could not record anything, sources said.

A bomb technician in a heavy kevlar suit approached the car and, sources say, was surprised to find a carefully constructed bomb. The bomb contained 125 liters of gasoline in containers stuffed onto the car’s right front seat and in its trunk. Also in the car were cylinders of propane and butane.

At great personal risk, sources say, the bomb technician then defused the bomb by hand.

According to U.S. security officials briefed on the matter a cell phone was to be used as a detonator.

The only way all of these details make sense to me is if the bomber parked the car casually, left the area, and tried to detonate it — but ended up with a fizzle. That would explain the smoke coming from the car that first alerted bystanders that something was up. It was a misfire. Otherwise you have to believe that the bomber walked away from the car intending to detonate it hours afterwards, but how likely is that given that the longer he waited, the greater the risk would have been that a passerby would notice what was in the car and call the cops?

Update: Londoners shrug. “I sort of think, ‘So what?’”