LONDON – British police defused a bomb found in a parked car in central London on Friday, and the new government called an emergency meeting of senior security chiefs to investigate what many feared could have been a planned terror attack.
A British security official told The Associated Press that the car was packed with explosives, gas canisters and nuts and bolts and would have caused “significant damage.”
He said there were similarities between the device and vehicle bombs used by insurgents in Iraq.
“Forensic staff are still examining the device, but once we know more about it, we’ll know more about what type of individuals are behind this,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the security details.
The incident comes a week before the second anniversary of the July 7 London bombings, when four British Muslim suicide bombers killed themselves and 52 bus and subway passengers.
The official said Britain’s domestic spy agency MI5 also would examine possible connections between Friday’s incident and at least two similar foiled plots — including a planned attack on a West End nightclub in 2004 and a thwarted attempt to use limousines packed with gas canisters to attack targets in London and New York.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who took office on Wednesday, said the incident was a reminder that Britain faces “a serious and continuous threat” and the “need to be alert.”
“I will stress to the Cabinet that the vigilance must be maintained over the next few days,” Brown said.
Officers were called to The Haymarket shortly before 2 a.m., a police statement said.
The Haymarket is the site of restaurants, bars, a cinema complex and, most famously, theaters. On a Thursday night, the area would have been buzzing with crowds of people. The broad street links Piccadilly Circus in the north to the Pall Mall at its southern end.
Forensic officers in white suits were examining a silver sedan and had placed a blue tent-like cover over the rear of the vehicle, which was parked outside an American Express foreign exchange office.
The area around the vehicle was cordoned off as a precaution on Friday morning. London transport officials said the Piccadilly Circus underground train station was closed.