The Associated Press
LONDON–Hundreds of British police embarked on a massive manhunt today, racing to find out who placed a homemade bomb on a packed London subway train during the morning rush hour.
The explosion–labelled a terrorist attack by police–wounded 22 people and ignited a panicked stampede to safety.
Experts said London may have escaped far worse carnage because it appeared the bomb only partially exploded.
“Clearly, this was a device that was intended to cause significant harm,” Prime Minister Theresa May said after chairing a meeting of the government’s COBRA emergency committee.
Police called it a terrorist attack–the fifth in Britain this year.
Witnesses described seeing a “wall of fire” as the bomb, hidden in a plastic bucket inside a supermarket freezer bag, went off about 8:20 a.m. while the train was at the Parsons Green station in southwest London.
It was not a large explosion, and British police and health officials said none of the injured were thought to be seriously hurt.
The Metropolitan Police force said there had been no arrests so far but hundreds of detectives, aided by intelligence agents, were looking at surveillance camera footage of the subway, carrying out forensic work, and speaking to witnesses.
It’s not clear whether the device was intended to explode when it did.
The site of the blast was in a leafy, affluent part of the city, not near any of London’s top tourist sites.
British media reported the bomb included a timer.
Photos taken inside the train show a white plastic bucket inside a foil-lined shopping bag.
Flames and what appear to be wires emerge from the top.
Terrorism analyst Magnus Ranstorp of the Swedish Defence University said that, from photos, it appeared the bomb did not fully detonate, as much of the device and its casing remained intact.
“They were really lucky with this one,” he noted. “It could have really become much worse.”
Police first were alerted when commuters reported a noise and a flash aboard the District Line train.
Commuter Lauren Hubbard was on the train when she heard a loud bang.
“I looked around and this wall of fire was just coming towards us. You just run,” noted Hubbard, who fled the above-ground station with her boyfriend.
Others described “absolute chaos” as hundreds rushed to flee the danger.
“I ended up squashed on the staircase,” said Ryan Barnett, 25.
“People were falling over, people fainting, crying, there were little kids clinging onto the back of me,” he recalled.
Mark Rowley, head of counterterrorism for the Metropolitan Police, said “this was a detonation of an improvised explosive device.”
He said 18 people had been injured, most with “flash burns.”
Health officials later said four others hurt in the bombing went to the hospital themselves.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the city “utterly condemns the hideous individuals who attempt to use terror to harm us and destroy our way of life.”
London has been targeted by attackers several times this year, with deadly vehicle attacks near Parliament, on London Bridge, and near a mosque in Finsbury Park in north London.
Beyond the capital, a May 22 suicide bomb attack at Manchester Arena killed 22 people.
The London Underground itself has been targeted several times in the past, notably in July, 2005, when suicide bombers blew themselves up on three subway trains and a bus, killing 52 people and themselves.
Four more bombers tried a similar attack two weeks later but their devices failed to fully explode.
Last year Damon Smith, a student with an interest in weapons and Islamic extremism, left a knapsack filled with explosives and ball bearings on a London subway train.
It failed to explode.