London Bomb Defused Without Loss of Life

Police find an explosive inside a parked car laden with fuel and nails outside a nightclub near the city's central theatre district, Piccadilly Circus. Scotland Yard says authorities arrived after smoke was noticed coming from the vehicle. Britain's new prime minister calls the incident a reminder of "a serious and continuous threat."

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's take a moment to mention the basics for those who are just waking up to this new story. A car packed with explosives was discovered overnight in London. The car was left outside a nightclub in the city's busy theater district. And Peter Clarke of Scotland Yard describes what turned up inside.

Mr. PETER CLARKE (Director, Anti-Terrorist Branch, Scotland Yard): In the car they found significant quantities of petrol together with a number of gas cylinders. There were also a large number of nails.

INSKEEP: We can tell you the reason that police were able to find all that is because the car did not explode. The discovery comes a week before an anniversary in London. It was two years ago that a series of suicide bomb attacks across that city killed dozens of subway and bus riders.

Let's get more now from NPR's Rob Gifford in London. And Rob, those materials that Peter Clarke mentioned, do they amount to a bomb?

ROB GIFFORD: The police are saying that they do. They say that the police arrived at 1:30 in the morning, this morning. They were tipped off to this by an ambulance crew that was in the area on a completely unrelated call. One of the crewmembers saw what he thought was smoke inside this large, silver Mercedes car that was parked outside a nightclub and called the police.

The police arrived, according to the anti-terrorism leader Mr. Clarke, who you just heard, and they then diffused the bomb. The car, as you say, had nails. It had propane gas cylinders and a large amount, about 15 gallons, of gasoline.

INSKEEP: How did that Mercedes get there?

GIFFORD: Well, that's the question they're trying to work out. There were varying reports early on, contradictory reports of how it got there. And the police have not issued any definitive statement of how it got there. As you can imagine, things are changing quite fast by the hour here in London, and the police are just trying to wait until they've got some actual facts before going in front of the television cameras.

INSKEEP: So Britain has a new Home secretary, Jacqui Smith, second day in the job, I believe. And Jacqui Smith is calling this international terrorism. What evidence is there, if any, that's available about who might be behind this?

GIFFORD: Again, it's very difficult to say, and the police are not saying. Inspector Clarke, the head of the anti-terrorism squad, said he did admit that there were some similarities to a plot that was uncovered a couple of years ago and for which a man was jailed for life last year, which was called the gas limos project. That's the name it was given here in the press. It was to fill limousines with gasoline and with gas cylinders and to explode them in underground car parks in London and in New York.

So, as you know, there've been a lot of alleged plots, a lot of actual plots here in London and around the world in the last few years. But we do not actually know if there is a link up with any international organizations at the moment.

INSKEEP: And Rob, I mentioned the new Home secretary. The reason for that is that there's a new government in effect and a new prime minister, Gordon Brown. What's he doing today?

GIFFORD: Well, absolutely. I mean, what a baptism of fire for him and for his new Home secretary, Jacqui Smith, the first woman ever to hold that post in the United Kingdom. And they have held an emergency meeting this morning. They have come out on television to give very initial statements to urge the public to be vigilant. And of course, this is a real test for them in the very, very early days of this new government.

INSKEEP: Rob, good talking with you again. Thank you.

GIFFORD: Thanks very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Gifford in London bringing us the latest on the news from there, where police disabled what they described as a large car bomb left in a tourist area of London overnight.

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