At least five people remain critically ill after a nail bomb exploded in a central London pub, killing two and injuring more than 70.
Surgeons were operating on a further four people early on Saturday morning and several more are still said to be seriously ill.
Forensic scientists and anti-terrorist squad officers spent the night combing the scene for clues. They are now trying to establish whether there were any CCTV cameras in the area that may have captured the bomber on film.
Sophie Holland, 17, who works in Old Compton Street, said she had visited the Soho pub’s barmaid, Veronica, at St Thomas’s Hospital. “She saw the bag and she was worried about it, but was pouring a beer at the bar at the time,” said Ms Holland. “As she went to go towards it the bomb went off. She said there was a big bang and it was blinding for her, and her hearing was impaired.”
The group laying claim to the Soho pub bombing is a neo-Nazi splinter organisation which takes its name from a Serbian paramiltary death squad. Police said a short garbled call attributing the attack to the “White Wolves” had been telephoned into the BBC.
The same group has already claimed it carried out the bombings in Brixton and Brick Lane, both areas of London with large ethnic minorities. Police believe the same people are responsible for all three attacks. In the last few weeks the White Wolves have sent a series of racist threats to prominent members of the UK’s ethnic minorities and anti-racist campaigners.
The group, described as amateurish but violent, is a breakaway faction of Combat 18 – one of the UK’s most notorious extremist groups, which has also claimed responsibility for the Brick Lane and Brixton bombings. Mike Whine, of the Board of Jewish Deputies, said: “The organisation comprises only half a dozen people but then you do not need many to carry out an act of violence.”
In recent weeks up to 25 people have contacted the organisation after receiving identical stencilled death threats from the White Wolves. Police have taken many of the letters, which are always stencilled in black ink to disguise the identity of the writer, away for DNA testing.
The letters, issued by the so-called “high command” of the White Wolves, read: “Notice is hereby given that all non-whites (defined by blood, not religion) must permanently leave the British Isles before the year is out. Jews & non-whites who remain after 1999 has ended will be exterminated. When the clocks strike midnight on the 31st of December 1999 the White Wolves will begin to howl and when the Wolves begin to howl the Wolves begin to hunt. You have been warned. Hail Britannia.”
Oona King, the black Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, in whose constituency last week’s Brick Lane bomb exploded, received a letter at her offices at the House of Commons before the Brixton attack. “Threatening extermination to a group because of their ethnicity is what Milosevic is doing now. It should not be allowed to happen,” she said. “The point is that history shows we do not tolerate this type of racism, however violent.”
Police Let Us Down – Peter Tatchell
“Ever since the first bombing was attributed to right-wing extremists, many gay activists have feared the homosexual community would be the next group targeted.
Given that neo-Nazi terrorists were being blamed for the first two bombings, there was a shocking police delay until only two days before the blast in warning the gay and Jewish communities that they were likely to be next.
The police decision to focus solely on a racist angle was a big mistake – it must have lulled many gays into a false sense of security.
This bombing shatters the complacent assumption that gay people can take their freedom for granted and shows we are still vulnerable to violent attacks. I have had several calls from ordinary gay people and they are stunned.
The Old Compton Street area has long been regarded as a safe, relaxing area for lesbians and gays.
After this atrocity, it’s my worry this may only be the first of a series of bombings to target the homosexual community.”
Update: Saturday, 1st May, 23:50 a.m.
On Saturday, 1st May a number of L/G/B/T community groups including OutRage!, Stonewall, and London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard, joined the protest march called by Lambeth UNISON, and backed by the Anti-Nazi League, the National Assembly Against Racism, the National Black Alliance, and the Movement for Justice, which was set up in the aftermath of the bungled police inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.