A DESPERATE search is under way for a “chemical vest”? that a British suicide bomber was ready to deploy in a terror attack on London.
Police fear that the strike, using a home-made chemical device, was imminent after an informant told MI5 that he had seen the lethal garment at the home of two young men.
Last night detectives were at the hospital bedside of a 23-year-old postal worker shot during a pre-dawn raid on his parents’ home, while his younger brother, aged 20, was being questioned at Paddington Green high security police station.
Armed officers who led the assault on the terraced house in Forest Gate, East London, wore oxygen masks and protective chemical gear after a tip-off from MI5 that the device had already been assembled.
Security chiefs are deeply concerned that there was no sign of the vest inside what they believe is a chemical bomb factory.
No weapons were found either as officers searched the two adjoining properties that have been converted to accommodate a large Bangladeshi family.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard’s Anti-Terrorist Branch, said that the raid, codenamed Operation Volga, was ordered in response to “specific intelligence”?.
He said that there had been no time to conduct further surveillance, which suggests that the police believed a terrorist was close to launching an attack. The fear is that if chemicals were to be used then a likely target could be a train compartment on the London Underground.
Another theory is that a suicide attacker, wearing the vest under a shirt, could trigger the device in a crowded venue, such as a pub full of people watching an England World Cup match.
It is understood that the main target in yesterday’s raid was the postal worker, who was hit in the shoulder by a single shot fired by a police marksman.
His injuries are not life threatening and he remains under armed guard at the Royal London Hospital.
Scientific experts had to delay a detailed search of the house in Lansdown Road while officials from the Independent Police Complaints Commission moved into the property to begin their investigation into the shooting.
After the bungled inquiry into the shooting of the Brazilian electrician, Jean Charles de Menezes, who was mistaken for a suicide bomber a day after a failed terror attack last July, Scotland Yard chiefs are keen to ensure that procedures are followed.
It is thought that the scientific investigators will remain at the property for up to a week searching for any trace of chemicals that have been used in a device.
More than 250 officers took part in the operation, which was the biggest seen in Britain this year. As well as police it involved MI5 agents and bio-chemical experts from the Health Protection Agency.
Such was the operation’s importance that Tony Blair, whois in Italy, was informed of the raid on Thursday night.
John Reid, the Home Secretary, was woken soon after the shooting. He went to Scotland Yard to be briefed by senior officers and met John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, in Downing Street.
After the operation, friends of the wounded man staged a demonstration outside the hospital where he is being treated. They claimed that the police had made a mistake.
One said: “Going into someone’s house and shooting them in front of their mum, that’s not right is it? Just because they have got a beard doesn’t mean to say you can shoot them.”?
Another friend said that after the September 11 attacks on America the older brother had started taking his religion more seriously, growing a beard and praying five times a day. “When we were younger he was no angel. But he changed, we all just grew up. He chose to go on the right path.
“He prayed five times a day, he went to the gym every day and other than that he stayed at home.
“Every time he spoke he would say peaceful things. He would give advice to everybody.
“Out of all our crew he was one of the good ones, working and looking after his family.”?
A 24-year-old man, who declined to be named, said that he was a “distant cousin”? of the victim.
He said that before becoming a van driver for the Royal Mail his friend had previously worked for the supermarket chain Tesco. He said that they had attended a gym together and that the injured man was a keen motorcyclist who owned an R6 Yamaha bike.
He added that the younger brother also worked at Tesco after being introduced to the company by his older brother.
Speaking about the family, he said that they lived in a “civilised”? home and often welcomed visitors.
He added that the brothers had three sisters, one of whom lived next door.
Speaking about the man who was shot, he said: “He went to the gym, he also worked out at home. He’s more homely rather than going out. Ever since I’ve known him he’s been religious.”?