UK terror threat level raised to ‘critical’ after London Tube explosion

A police forensics officer works alongside an underground tube train at a platform at Parsons Green underground tube station in west London on September 15, 2017, following an incident on an underground tube carriage at the station. Police and ambulance services said they were responding to an 'incident' at Parsons Green underground station in west London on Friday, following media reports of an explosion. 'We are aware of an incident at Parsons Green tube station. Officers are in attendance,' London's Metropolitan Police said on Twitter. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS

The terror threat in the United Kingdom has been raised from severe to critical, Prime Minister Theresa May announced, a spokesperson told CNN.

The terror threat level of “critical” means than another attack is considered to be “imminent.”

A major manhunt is under way after an improvised explosive device exploded on a London Underground train, injuring 29 people in what police have called a terrorist incident.

None of the injured are thought to be in a serious or life-threatening condition, according to the London Ambulance Service, which took 19 of the injured to hospitals. Ten others went to hospitals on their own.

The blast occurred during the morning rush hour at about 8:20 a.m. local time (2:20 a.m.) Friday at Parsons Green Tube station, a leafy stop on a busy commuter line from southwest London into the center of the capital.

“We now assess that this was a detonation of an improvised explosive device,” London’s Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said at a news conference.

Most of the injuries appear to be the result of flash burns, he said.

Asked by a reporter if police had any information on the perpetrator, Rowley said: “It’s a live investigation.”

No arrests have been made so far. Hundreds of detectives are working on the inquiry with the support of Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5.

A British security source who has been briefed on the investigation told CNN that a timer was found on the device. It’s clear the device was intended to cause much greater damage, the source said, but cautioned that the investigation is still in its preliminary stages.

Another source briefed by investigators told CNN that an initial assessment of the device indicates it is “highly likely” to have contained the explosive TATP but that this has not been confirmed. It also appeared to have been crude and poorly designed, the source said.

Speaking after she chaired a high-level COBRA security meeting, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK terror threat level would remain at “severe” — the second highest level — but that this would be kept under review.

“Police and security services are obviously doing all the work to discover the full circumstances of this cowardly attack and try to identify those responsible,” she said.

“The threat of terrorism that we face is severe but together, by working together, we will defeat them.”

She added that people should carry on with their daily lives but be vigilant.

Sudden ‘boom’

In the aftermath of the explosion, Parsons Green station was closed, a wide security cordon was put in place and large numbers of emergency responders, including armed police officers, flooded the scene.

“Suddenly, there was this boom,” eyewitness Gustavo Vieira told CNN. “Everyone shouting and screaming… We were just leaving the carriage [when the explosion happened]… Just heard and everyone starting running… And I didn’t look back.”

He said people were taken to a nearby restaurant, where some were treated by first responders.

Another witness, software developer Sylvain Pennec, told CNN: “It was maybe 10 meters from me, the explosion. I didn’t fully realize because I had my headphones on. I heard a big… ‘Bam.’ An explosion noise.

“When I looked I saw people starting to get scared. We were lucky because we were at the Parsons Green station and the doors were starting to open. Everyone managed to get out of the train.”

Pennec said the device looked “like a big mayonnaise bucket” but he was unsure what was inside.

“I saw some people with burns, and things like that. But, from what I saw, most people were injured from the movement of the crowd,” he added.

Police evacuated an area around the station approximately 55 yards in radius while they investigate.

“The evacuation has been necessary whilst specialist officers secure the remnants of the improvised device and ensure it is stable,” a Met Police statement said, adding that a “small number of residents” would be affected.

Mayor: ‘Safe global city’

London Mayor Sadiq Khan told CNN there would be “an enhanced police presence” across London’s public transport system and urged people to be “vigilant and alert” — but not alarmed.

“What we’ve seen in the last period across Europe is attempts by evil and cowardly individuals to kill, to injure and to disrupt our way of life and what we’re not going to do is allow them to change how we live our lives, to be pluralistic, to be respectful,” he said.

“We will do all we can to keep our city, to keep Londoners, to keep visitors, to keep businesses safe.”

He added: “We are a safe global city.”

US President Donald Trump told reporters in the White House Rose Garden on Friday that “we have to be tougher and we have to be smarter” in dealing with the terrorist threat.

“It is a terrible thing. It just keeps going and going and we have to be very smart, we have to be very, very tough, perhaps we are not nearly tough enough,” Trump said.

Trump called the British Prime Minister “to offer his condolences over this morning’s cowardly attack in London,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Trump had earlier responded to the incident in a series of tweets.

“Another attack in London by a loser terrorist. These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!” he tweeted.

A police spokesperson told CNN that Trump’s comment is “pure speculation given we don’t know who is involved. Any speculation is unhelpful.”

Asked by a journalist about Trump’s tweets, May said: “I never think it’s helpful for anybody to speculate on what is an ongoing investigation.”

Passengers evacuated

Local businesses and residents in Parsons Green — an affluent, mainly residential area popular with families — offered help to those in need.

Katy Llewellyn-Jones, who lives nearby and heard screams from the train, told CNN she had given shelter to a woman who had lost her shoes in the confusion and had asked for somewhere safe to go.

“It’s frightening to think this can happen right by your home,” said Llewellyn-Jones.

The Met Police have appealed for any witnesses to send in images and video from the scene.

There have already been four confirmed terror attacks in England this year, three of them in London and one in Manchester.