Two people were killed and more than 80 injured in a nail bomb blast at a gay pub in Soho, central London. A third died in hospital 24 hours later.
Police said the bomb had been placed next to the bar in the Admiral Duncan in Old Compton Street, exploding at around 1835 BST.
One witness described the scene as “absolute carnage”, with several people blown out of the pub into the street. No warning was given.
It was the third nail bomb attack in London in the past fortnight. Police are linking the explosions and said all the devices were of the same size and type.
A far-right splinter group, the White Wolves, later telephoned a BBC newsroom and claimed it was responsible for the Soho explosion.
The previous blasts, in Brixton and Brick Lane, appeared to target ethnic communities, and the White Wolves were one of several extreme right-wing groups that claimed they were behind those attacks.
Apart from the two dead, three hospitals in the centre of London reported 13 seriously hurt – including two who had lost limbs – and 68 with minor injuries.
Twenty one ambulances were called up, and the injured taken to University College, Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospitals.
Ken Murphy, a motorcyle paramedic with the London Ambulance Service, was first on the scene.
He said there were numerous casualties, including two with “traumatic amputation of limbs”.
Scotland Yard’s Deputy Assistant Commisioner Alan Fry said he was anxious to hear from anyone acting suspiciously inside or in the vicinity of the Admiral Duncan pub. He added: “I would appeal to the public to remain vigilant. If you see any unattended package or bag, dial 999 and move away as soon as possible.”
Friends or relatives worried about the injured can telephone Scotland Yard’s casualty bureau on 020-126.96.36.199: but the line is very overloaded, be patient.
Injured at several hospitals and others have checked into their nearest hospital to home, hence confusion with numbers and delays in information. Casualty centre will log your details and data base will match casualty to you once located. You will be called as soon as this happens. Particular concern that some injured or dead may be foreign tourists and this will add to identification problems.
Anyone with information should contact the police, in confidence, on the anti-terrorist branch hotline on 0800-78.93.21.
If any witness particularly wishes to speak to a lesbian/gay police officer, members of the Lesbian and Gay Police Association will be available around the clock at the Police Mobile Command vehicle located in Soho Square.
The latest bomb in London is the third in two weeks: the first to kill, and the first indoors.
17 April — Just before 1730 BST a nail bomb exploded in Brixton, injuring 39 people, some seriously. Police say there was no warning.
Victims, including two children and a police officer, were wounded by flying shrapnel and shards of glass. Some were left with nails embedded in their bodies. A 23-month-old boy with had 2cm of a nail removed from his brain by surgeons at Great Ormond Street Hospital in a one-and-a-half-hour operation.
24 April — Police staged a reconstruction of the Brixton attack to encourage more witnesses to come forward. Soon afterwards, shortly before 1800 BST, six people were injured and buildings damaged by a second nail bomb, which exploded near Brick Lane, Shoreditch, in east London, the centre of the Bangladeshi community.
A motorist who discovered the device put it in the boot of his car and was attempting to drive to a police station when it exploded.
Police linked the incidents and say they are treating them as racist attacks. Two hours after the attack, a 999 call was made by someone purporting to be from Combat 18 claiming to be behind the bomb.
UK Home Secretary Jack Straw has led the condemnation of the bomb attack in Soho: “This is a terrible outrage committed by people with no humanity. I know that the police are devoting huge efforts to find the perpetrators. Our hearts go out to those injured, their families and friends. This awful crime reinforces the need for all of us to be vigilant.
“We are dealing with people who have warped minds, right-wing extremists who are obviously racist and homophobic. That we know. I know too that the British people will not be intimidated by this outrage, nor will the harmony between different minorities be disturbed by it.”
William Hague, Conservative leader: “[It’s an] appalling and barbaric act. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families and friends and those involved in attending to them at this time.”
Paddy Ashdown, Liberal Democrat leader: “This horrific outrage, picking on a minority, poses a challenge to all of us. My first thoughts are with the injured and the families of those who died. I condemn this murderous and cowardly act that strikes at the heart of civilised and tolerant values.”
Sir Paul Condon, Metropolitan Police Commissioner: “It is now a time for calm, vigilance, and for the community to work together to defeat these cowards. Even though the hate is directed at minority communities, its evil affects all of us. These are cowardly hate devices designed to kill, main and injure – initially minority communities, but clearly they are totally indiscriminate as to who gets killed or hurt. They are an attack on us all and we must work together to catch these people as soon as possible.”
There was no clear indication yet as to who planted the bomb, he said, adding “it is clearly likely to be far-right extremists”. He confirmed that a BBC newsroom received a call on Friday evening saying far-right group the White Wolves had caused the explosion. But the call was described as sounding “garbled”, and he said the police were still open minded as to who was responsible. “It is now a time for calm, vigilance, and for the community to work together to defeat these cowards. Even though the hate is directed at minority communities, its evil affects all of us.”
Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster: “I deplore this evil attack and the earlier attacks in Brick Lane and Brixton. It is deeply shocking that minority groups should apparently be targeted in this way. These outrageous acts must be condemned. My thoughts and prayers tonight are with the families and friends of the dead and injured.”
The Queen sent a message of sympathy to the victims; and a belated denunciation of bombing was obtained from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Security has also been stepped up in Brighton, and Manchester’s Canal Street, which are both popular gay areas.
Gay businesses and pubs are asked to check their CCTV systems are fully functional. — Are date and time set to summer time? Is new tape in? Is lens wiped clean?
Vigilance in gay areas is advised, and people are warned to look out for suspicious people or unattended bags. Do not be embarrassed about false alarms – the LGBT community has every right to take extra precautions given the stated objectives of Combat 18.