So a "potentially viable" explosive device was discovered in a car in London's Haymarket last night, as I'm sure everyone is aware by now. The British and American media and every blogger in America are all over this, but to be honest there's a hell of a lot of re-treading of a very few facts going on. At this point, it seems to me, there are three questions to be asked and a clear answer to only one of them.
1)Was the bomb-plot a serious threat?
Well, the bomb wouldn't have been discovered if the car's driver hadn't crashed it into a bunch of trash-cans and then ran for it. That means the plot was off the radar as far as UK intelligence was concerned. Still, there's any number of possible reasons why the driver crashed and ran. If his running off was the plan all along, indicating that the explosion should have followed close on his departure, then the bomb failed to detonate properly. If he was a suicide bomber, he didn't have the courage of his convictions or was confused by petrol fumes. If it was meant to be a remotely detonated device, his clumsy actions blew the plot instead of the bomb. None of the possibilities point to experts or even efficient amateurs.
Likewise, the use of gasoline and propane point to an attempt at a fuel-air explosion - but if so the presence of nails shows the folks responsible don't really get the dynamics of such explosions. As expert David Hambling points out, either the fuel-air explosion works or the nail-bomb element works - not both. That indicates they're amateurs with knowledge gleaned second-hand rather than trained experts who understand the physics of explosives.
And David, not being a Brit insurance underwriter, may have missed one important fact. UK propane and other gas canisters don't explode in all directions. They're manufactured with a deliberate weakness in the base so that any explosion is channelled as the base gives way. The canister will shoot out like an underpowered rocket, but the explosive force of the detonation is far smaller and more directional (backwards) than if the whole canister failed all at once. That's why the famous "Gas limos" scheme wasn't quite all it was hyped to be.
There's too much unknown as yet to be sure, but my assumption is that the device, while a "viable" one, was an amateur job and the threat wasn't as serious as it's being painted. I wouldn't want to have been standing next to it had it gone up but the folk in the club were safe.
2) Who is responsible for the failed attack?
Who the f**k knows? If I were a betting man I'd say the odds are on some homemade Islamist group of ad hoc terrorists. But there's no description of the guy seen running away and as yet no news on if the local cameras caught his face. London's a big and open city and is home to just about every group with a grudge on the planet. London gangsters conducting a nightclub feud (yes, Virginia, the bad boys still do that kind of thing in Britain - I could tell you stories from my fire insurance days...), some IRA splinter group, an Islamist group either homegrown or foreign - there's a possible list as long as your arm. The close-by aniversarry of the 7/7 attacks, Brown's recent accession to power and other circumstantial evidence for blaming islamists is exactly that - circumstantial. It could all be a coincidence and we'll just have to wait and see.
3) How will Londoners (and Brits in general) react?
Londoners have survived the Blitz, gangland wars, bloody riots, the IRA and any number of small-time nutters who wnated to use nailbombs on gay folks, blow up black folks, or just generally attack anyone who wasn't in their self-defined list of those who deserved to live. This one didn't even explode.
The answer is simple - Londoners will, overwhelmingly, shrug and carry on.
Update The UK's Telegraph is reporting that another car bomb has been found in the Park Lane area, which also failed to explode even after being loaded onto a trailer for illegal parking and taken to the police pound. It also says the original device failed to go off after four attempts were made to explode it by mobile phone signal. That speaks to incompetent wannabes.
In the US, ABC's The Blotter has an exclusive report that the local CCTV system has a "crystal clear" picture of the man seen running away from the crashed car - and the suspect is indeed a Muslim, who bears "a close resemblance" to a man police had previously arrested and released on suspicion of involvement in the "gas limo" case.
These are, however, both anonymously sourced stories and so shouldn't be taken as gospel until an official spokesman is willing to put his or her name to them.
Meanwhile, the Telegraph's pet neocon shill in Washinton, Con Coughlin, is sure we're looking at an Al Qaeda message to Gordon Brown, despite having no evidence for such an opinion.
If the car bomb, which was placed outside one of London’s most popular nightclubs, had successfully detonated it would have caused widespread devastation and loss of life, and would have forced Mr Brown to demonstrate whether he has the strength of character and leadership qualities that are required when the country suffers a major terrorist attack.The implication being that Brown doesn't have such strength, even if he does certainly have the strength of character to cock a snook at Coughlin's neocon pals in the U.S. by appointing Malloch Brown to a foreign office post.
Update 2 That second car bomb has now been confirmed by the UK's anti-terror police chief, Peter Clarke, in a statement. His statement also confirms that someone attempted to trigger the bombs but they failed to detonate. I think we're looking at ambitious homegrown amateurs, still.
Update 3 The London Times has found an expert willing to deny logic and causation to make the bombs seem scarier. He says the explosion would have " generated a fireball the size of a house and a shock wave spreading out over a diameter of at least 400 yards". However, it's clear from his explanation that for this to be true, the cloud of gas from the propane cylinders would have to expand to its fullest possible extent before igniting - something that would be impossible in the presence of burning petroleum - and that the original explosive charge would have to be big enough to fragment, not just pierce, the gas cylinders. Given the lack of evidence of such a large conventional explosive charge so far, he's pushing the boundaries of possibility to their maximum. Professor Hans Michels was also a prominent expert consulted by both the media and the prosecution during the "liquid bomb" plot furore and subsequent trial in 2005.