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Bomb in London's Indian hotspot

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By AMIT ROY in London
  • Published 29.06.07

London, June 29: London had a very lucky escape today when a car bomb, which could have killed and maimed hundreds around Piccadilly Circus — a favourite haunt of Indians — was defused in the nick of time.

What was also ironic was the dramatic manner in which art has imitated life, Indian filmmakers said.

Filming of a Bollywood movie on Islamic terrorism was disrupted after Scotland Yard officers were summoned to dismantle the massive car bomb outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub in the Haymarket, causing severe dislocation of the capital’s traffic.

Director Jagmohun Mundhra, whose movie Shoot on Sight was inspired by the suicide bombings in London on July 7, 2005, in which 52 people were killed and 700 injured, has cast Naseeruddin Shah as a senior Scotland Yard officer who is called upon to fire at and kill a terrorist youth (who happens to be his own recently arrived nephew from Pakistan).

Mundhra is treading on sensitive ground: in real life, a young man pursued and shot repeatedly by police officers at Stockwell underground station on July 22, 2005, turned out to be not a suicide bomber but Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, a totally innocent Brazilian electrician.

Leaving aside the twists and turns in his production, which has received a fair amount of assistance from Scotland Yard to give the film authenticity, Mundhra told The Telegraph: “We have not taken sides but want the film to be part of a healing process. But the issue of terrorism is not going to go away.”

Gulshan Grover, who is also in the film — “I play a good Muslim” — said he discovered what was taking place when he rang for his car today to be advised: “Do you really want to travel today? Traffic is not moving in central London.”

In sombre mood, Grover added: “What is happening is not good for society.”

Just after 1am today, ambulance crew routinely attending on an injured man in the Haymarket, very close to the Eros landmark in Piccadilly Circus, noticed vapour emerging from a carelessly parked metallic light-green Mercedes.

Witnesses had seen a man run away from the car as it was being parked “erratically” after hitting rubbish bins on the pavement. The lights of the car were left on, suggesting the driver had panicked.

The police arrived immediately and managed to defuse a lethal cocktail of petrol in containers, gas canisters and nails, which would probably have caused heavy loss of life had the bomb exploded.

The club is normally packed with hundreds of revellers and Piccadilly Circus and the Haymarket is a focus for tourists at any time of day or night.

Once, furtive executives from India made for the strip bars in Soho but today Indian families, dressed in jeans and trainers, hang out in the Haymarket eating hamburgers from the big McDonald’s in the street.

Deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, said today: “It is obvious that if the device had detonated, there could have been significant injury or loss of life. The threat from terrorism is real and is here.”

The threat of the explosion, the search for forensic clues and fears there might be other car bombs meant central London was an area to avoid today, which was bad news for Indians who now constitute the second biggest group of tourists after the Americans.

Thousands of rush-hour commuters suffered delays as Piccadilly Circus tube station remained closed. Part of Park Lane was closed to traffic after reports of a suspicious vehicle.

Haymarket was closed between Pall Mall and Piccadilly Circus as were Coventry Street, Whitcomb Street, Shaftesbury Avenue and Cambridge Circus and 16 bus lines were diverted in the area with delays of more than 45 minutes.

The result was gridlocks around Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross Road. The position where the Mercedes was abandoned — bang opposite the Tiger Tiger and not far from such celebrity haunts as Chinawhite — brought to mind the notorious “gas limos project” hatched by Dhiren Barot, the Hindu boy turned Islamic terrorist, now serving 40 years in prison.

During his trial last year, it emerged he had wanted to explode limousines packed with gas cylinders outside high profile targets, including nightclubs such as the Ministry of Sound in London. He was part of the “fertiliser gang” that had links to the July 7 suicide bombers of July 7, 2005.

So far, no one has claimed responsibility but Gordon Brown, dealing with his first crisis as Prime Minister, said: “The first duty of the government is the security of the people and as the police and security services have said on so many occasions, we face a serious and continuous threat to our country. But this incident does recall the need for us to be vigilant at all times and the public to be alert at any potential incidents. I will stress to the cabinet that the vigilance must be maintained over the next few days.”

Manmohan Singh, who has invited Brown to India, may find the new British Prime Minister more than attentive when the former brings up the question of terrorism.