The so-called Islamic State has claimed responsibility after at least 29 people were injured by a homemade bomb on a packed London subway train during Friday morning’s commute. The attack prompted British authorities to boost the country’s security threat level to critical from severe — meaning another attack is expected.
Prime Minister Theresa May said armed police and military members would be present on streets in the coming days.
The move comes after police responded to reports of a noise and a flash aboard a train in the southwest of the city, at Parsons Green subway station at around 8:20 a.m. local time. Chaos then ensued as hundreds of people rushed to get away from danger.
Speaking with Reuters news agency, London resident Olaniyi Shokunbi described the stampeded of people that followed a reported explosion on a subway car.
“So I’ve looked to my left, and literally all I see is just like hundreds of people just running out and I’m thinking at that point, I’m not going to try to find out what it is, people are shouting and screaming, so I just run out as well,” Shokunbi said. “Parsons Green being a small train station, you know it’s very tight, you know there isn’t a lot of space for everyone to get out at the same time, so people are pushing each other, people are dropping on the floor.”
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London Ambulance Service said it treated 19 patients for mostly minor injuries following the incident and the injured were taken to three hospitals.The National Health Service later said that 21 people were being treated and eight others had already been discharged.
Many of the injuries were a result of the stampede that ensued as people tried to flee the station.
Mark Rowley, head of counterterrorism for the Metropolitan Police, said the fire on the train was caused by “the detonation of an improvised device,” and the police force declared it as a “terrorist incident.” A search for suspects is still underway, but Rowley said Friday night that police have made “good progress” in the investigation.
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“We now assess that this was a detonation of an improvised explosive device. As you have seen there are reports of 18 injuries and as I understand most of those to be flash burns,” Rowley told reporters. “The investigation is being led by the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command and parts of the National Counter Terrorism Policing network and there are many urgent inquiries ongoing now with hundreds of detectives involved looking at CCTV, forensic work and speaking to witnesses. This investigation is supported by our colleagues from MI-5 and bringing their intelligence expertise to bear on the case.”
Photos from inside the train show what appears to be a white plastic bucket, lined with foil, and with debris inside it on fire.
Another witness told Reuters he heard a “bang” and then saw a “flash” before panicked people began to run towards him.
“Almost immediately, I saw this surge of people screaming and running towards me and this is just as the carriage, the train came into Parsons Green so no doors had opened and then as soon as they opened they were just running to get out of the station quick,” the man told the news agency.
Another commuter, Richard Aylmer-Hall, said he saw several people injured, apparently trampled as they fled what he described as a packed train.
“I saw crying women, there was lots of shouting and screaming, there was a bit of a crush on the stairs going down to the streets,” Aylmer-Hall said.
Authorities were appealing to the public for any images or video footage from the scene of the explosion to be handed over to police. No arrests have been made.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan condemned the incident, saying the city “will never allow terrorists to succeed.”
“What we’ve seen today is an attempt by evil and cowardly terrorists to kill, injure and to disrupt our way of life,” the mayor said. “We will not allow terrorists to divide our communities. We will never allow terrorists to succeed.”
London has been targeted by attackers several times this year, with deadly vehicle attacks near parliament, on London Bridge and near a mosque in Finsbury Park in north London. Beyond the capital, a May 22 suicide bomb attack at Manchester Arena killed 22 people.
— With files from Global News reporter Maham Abedi, The Associated Press, and Reuters