LONDON, (Reuters) – A home-made bomb on a packed rush-hour commuter train in London engulfed a carriage in flames and injured 29 people yesterday, but apparently failed to fully explode, in Britain’s fifth major terrorism incident this year.
Passengers heading into the British capital fled in panic after the blast as the train was about to depart Parsons Green station in West London at 8:20 a.m. (0720 GMT).
Some suffered burns and others were injured in a stampede to escape the station, one of the above-ground stops on the underground “Tube” network, but health officials said none were thought to be in a serious condition.
“We are chasing down suspects,” said Britain’s top counter-terrorism officer, Mark Rowley. “Somebody has planted this improvised explosive device on the Tube: we have to be open-minded at this stage about him and about potential associates.”
Hundreds of detectives and intelligence officials were involved in the manhunt. Rowley declined to say if the suspected bomber had been on the train.
Prime Minister Theresa May returned to London to chair a meeting of the government’s emergency response committee. She called the incident a “cowardly attack” and said the national threat level had been raised a notch to its highest level, “critical”.
The Islamic State militant group, which has said it was behind several attacks on Western cities in recent years, including two attacks in London and one in Manchester this year, claimed responsibility through its news agency, Amaq.
It was impossible to verify the claim, for which Amaq offered no evidence. Western intelligence officials have questioned similar claims in the past, saying that while Islamic State’s jihadist ideology may have inspired some attackers, there is scant evidence that it has orchestrated attacks.
“It is very routine in these sort of circumstances for IS to claim responsibility, whether or not they have had any previous engagement with the individuals involved,” Rowley said.
Pictures taken at the scene showed a slightly charred white bucket with a supermarket freezer bag on the floor of one train carriage. The bucket, still intact, was in flames and there appeared to be wires coming out of the top.
“I was on second carriage from the back. I just heard a kind of ‘whoosh’. I looked up and saw the whole carriage engulfed in flames making its way towards me,” Ola Fayankinnu, who was on the train, told Reuters.
“There were phones, hats, bags all over the place and when I looked back I saw a bag with flames.”
Charlie Craven said he had just got on the train when the device exploded.
“Literally within three seconds of putting your bag down, the doors just closing, we hear a loud explosion,” he told Reuters. “I looked around and saw this massive fireball … coming down the carriage.”
He said terrified passengers fled, fearing a second explosion or a gunman, with people being knocked to the ground and crushed in the stampede to escape.