UPDATE III, AND BUMP TO TOP: ABC News reports that Germany has arrested two men who came from the Pakistani camp that served as Jihadi U, and believe that they have also been targeted. Also, authorities say this bears all the hallmarks of an Al-Qaeda operation:
Last year, al Qaeda operative Dhiren Barot was convicted by a British court for a plot to use limousines to carry similar bombs as those defused today to similar targets as the nightclubs allegedly targeted today.
In his own personal manual, Barot described how the cylinders, "if carefully orchestrated can be as powerful as exploding TNT," and "are easily available to the general public," designed for a "synchronized, concurrent (back-to-back) execution on the same day and time." Videos posted on al Qaeda Web sites also show in full detail how to rig propane and butane cylinders as powerful bombs.
And today's explosive devices -- composed of five or six propane and butane cylinders as well as 33 gallons of gasoline, all rigged to detonate with calls to two cell phones -- followed Barot's manual and the al Qaeda videos closely. Officials say the cell phones failed to initiate the explosions, even after each phone had been called twice, preventing a shrapnel-filled fireball from launching and killing people in the surrounding area.
Hmm. Looking more serious all the time, isn't it?
UPDATE II: It looks like London narrowly averted two bombings, perhaps more, as London police found a second rigged vehicle. The cell-phone detonaters failed despite multiple attempts to blow up the bombs:
Police in London's bustling nightclub and theater district on Friday defused a car bomb that could have killed hundreds after an ambulance crew spotted smoke coming from a Mercedes filled with a lethal mix of gasoline, propane and nails. Hours later, police confirmed a second explosives-rigged car was found nearby.
The first car bomb, found near Piccadilly Circus, was powerful enough to have caused "significant injury or loss of life" at a time when hundreds were in the area, British anti-terror police chief Peter Clarke said.
Clarke said Friday evening that the second car — another Mercedes — was originally parked illegally on nearby Cockspur Street, but had been towed from the West End to an impound lot near Hyde Park.
"The vehicle was found to contain very similar materials to those that had been found in the first car," he said. "There was a considerable amount of fuel and gas canisters. As in the first vehicle, there was also a quantity of nails. This like the first device was potentially viable."
And it looks like the Islamist terrorists had celebrated a little too early, according to CBS:
Hours before London explosives technicians dismantled a large car bomb in the heart of the British capital's tourist-rich theater district, a message appeared on one of the most widely used jihadist Internet forums, saying: "Today I say: Rejoice, by Allah, London shall be bombed."
CBS News found the posting, which went on for nearly 300 words, on the "al Hesbah" chat room. It was left by a person who goes by the name abu Osama al-Hazeen, who appears regularly on the forum. The comment was posted on the forum, according to time stamp, at 08:09 a.m. British time on June 28 -- about 17 hours before the bomb was found early on June 29.
Al Hesbah is frequently used by international Sunni militant groups, including al Qaeda and the Taliban, to post propaganda videos and messages in their fight against the West.
The police already know who they seek in the first incident. Security cameras -- London is full of them -- got a clear picture of the man who left the first Mercedes, and it's someone they know well. In fact, he's been arrested before for suspicious activity but released for a lack of evidence (via Hot Air):
British police have a “crystal clear” picture of the man who drove the bomb-rigged silver Mercedes outside a London nightclub, and officials tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com he bears “a close resemblance” to a man arrested by police in connection with another bomb plot but released for lack of evidence.
Officials say the suspect had been taken into custody in connection with the case of al Qaeda operative Dhiren Barot, who was convicted of orchestrating a vehicle bomb plot involving targets in London, New York, Newark, N.J. and Washington, D.C.
NBC reports that the British authorities now seek three men from Birmingham in connection to the day's events, which indicates a conspiracy for this attack. Both US and British intelligence have concluded that this is a plot by organized radical Islamists, who didn't know enough to get the air/fuel mixture correct in constructing the bombs. They won't repeat that mistake, I'm certain.
Bonus question: how long before we start hearing that this is the work of incompetents and that the media is blowing the story out of proportion?
Original post follows:
Police discovered that a car that left outside a London nightclub had been intended as a car bomb -- one that failed to detonate, fortunately. While authorities attempt to find the person or people responsible, the proximity to the anniversary of the July 7 bombing attacks two years ago seems more than just a coincidence:
A car bomb left in London's West End would have caused "significant injury or loss of life" if it had not been defused by police.
The explosive device, consisting of gas cyclinders and nails, was discovered at 2am outside a packed nightclub in The Haymarket, near Piccadilly Circus. ...
One witness said that door staff at the nightclub Tiger, Tiger alerted police after the car was driven into bins last night and the driver ran off.
The witness said the large silver saloon car was being driven "erratically" before the minor crash. The driver was not stopped.
So far, the size of the device is under dispute. Jack Straw, the new Justice Secretary in the Gordon Browne government, called it "big" in an interview today. The Telegraph reports from its police sources that the device actually was small -- but with the nails and the shrapnel the car would have created, it could have been very deadly regardless.
For now, details will be sketchy. Londoners, though, will wonder what comes next for a city that has always embraced multiculturalism.
UPDATE: Was this a graduation requirement from Jihadi U? ABC News reports on an interesting, but necessarily compelling, correlation:
The discovery of a massive car bomb set to detonate in central London comes just three weeks after what was described as an al Qaeda graduation ceremony of suicide bomb teams to be dispatched to Europe and the United States. ...
On the tape, the leader of the British team speaks of the mission in broken English, "Let me say something about why we are going along with my team to tell a suicide attack in Britain."
That was just 20 days ago, and the existence of the tape first reported by ABC News put British and German security experts on edge.
It's interesting and provocative, but as a theory it has at least one major flaw -- no suicide. The driver of the car ran off, which makes this look like either a bad bomb design, a failure of will, or most likely a remote-detonation scheme that failed. Either that, or grade inflation has struck Jihadi U.