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Terror strikes again on London Tube: 19 injured

Vidya Ram LONDON | Updated on January 10, 2018 Published on September 15, 2017

Police officers walk on the road near Parsons Green tube station in London on Friday. -- REUTERS

A London Underground sign is seen behind a locked gate, in central London. (File photo: Reuters)

Improvised bomb blast was the fifth terrorist attack on the city in 2017

Britain faced its fifth terrorism incident in 2017 as an improvised explosive device triggered an explosion on a rush-hour tube train at Parsons Green in southwest London on Friday morning, injuring at least 19 people and triggering mass panic at the station.

The Metropolitan Police — whose counter-terrorism command centre has taken charge of the multi-agency investigation — confirmed the “critical and extremely serious incident” was being treated as a terrorist one and that Londoners could expect to see an enhanced police presence, particularly across transport networks.

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

The attack comes 12 years after 52 people were killed in terrorist bombings on London buses and tubes, and after the March attack on Westminster Bridge and outside the Houses of Parliament that killed five people. Less than a month after the attack on the Ariana Grande Concert in Manchester, 11 people were killed in another attack around London Bridge station, while in June a man was killed outside the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London. Nineteen terrorist plots have been foiled in Britain since June 2013, while 379 people were arrested for terrorism-related offences across the country in the 12 months to June.

Prime Minister Theresa May chaired a meeting of the emergency COBRA committee, on Friday afternoon as Britain’s terror threat remained at severe, meaning a terror attack was highly likely.

The explosion took place at around 8.20 in the morning when the device on the District line tube train, travelling from southwest London to Paddington, went off, creating what witnesses described as a “fireball.” Images circulating on social media, taken after the incident, appeared to show a white bucket, within a supermarket bag,

One witness who had suffered burns to his scalp spoke of others who were badly burnt, while others spoke of the panic that ensued as people attempted to exit the station through its single narrow stairwell, with some witnesses recounting how people were pushed underfoot in the stampede to get out.

While the focus will now be on bringing those responsible to justice, the attack highlighted the challenge facing large metropolitan centres, amid the new wave of terror attacks, some of which appear to be carried out by lone agents, often using low-tech weapons, and therefore harder for security services to track. Like commuter trains in India, London’s rush-hour tubes and trains are packed, making it impossible to identify suspicious packages, which appears to have been the case on Friday.

The incident is also likely to reignite the domestic debate about funding of emergency services in Britain, amid austerity cutbacks to resources and constraints on pay - issues that were raised by the Labour Party following previous attacks. On Friday, Mr. Khan also raised the issue of resources, and how the latest attack underlined the need for further resources of the capital that has become, along with Paris, a focal point of recent terror incidents in Europe.

Trump speak

US President Donald Trump waded into controversy for yet another time following a terrorist attack in Britain as he appeared to suggest the person suspected of carrying out the terrorist attack on the tube train was known to police, - before British police had confirmed this was the case - and that the Internet should be “cut off.”

“Another attack in London by a loser terrorist. These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!,” he tweeted, adding that “loser terrorists” ought to be dealt with in a much “tougher manner. The internet is their main recruitment tool which we must cut off & use better!’ The Metropolitan Police’s Counter terrorism command who are leading the investigation have made clear that it remains a live case in its early stages, and that hundreds of officers were wading through information. They are yet to confirm if suspects were known to them or security services.

Mr. Trump triggered anger in Britain earlier this year after he criticized London mayor Sadiq Khan following the June attack on London Bridge for urging people to remain calm. There was also a separate controversy following the attack on the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester when sensitive details were released to the U.S. media, triggering concerns about the flow of sensitive information between the two countries, which work closely together on security and counter terror issues.

The incident heighted calls for Mr. Trump’s state visit to London to be cancelled (the visit is yet to take place). Even the Prime Minister Theresa May eventually admitted, in an interview with Sky News, that Mr. Trump’s comments about Mr. Khan were “wrong.”

Mr. Trump’s latest comments provoked frank criticism including from within the British political establishment. “True or not - and I’m sure he doesn’t know - this is so unhelpful from leader of our ally and intelligence partner,” tweeted Nick Timothy, a former close advisor of Prime Minister Theresa May who resigned following the June election.

Mr. Trump also used Friday’s attack to justify the U.S. travel ban. “The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific - but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!” he tweeted.

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Published on September 15, 2017
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