Police Call London Subway Fire a ‘Terrorist Incident’
Witnesses describe smell of smoke on train car, panic as passengers flee
A fire on a London subway train was being treated as a terrorist incident, U.K. police said Friday, as witnesses described an explosion followed by a burst of flames and scenes of panic during the morning rush.
Emergency services said 18 people are being treated for injuries at London hospitals following the incident at Parsons Green station in West London, but none are in a serious or life-threatening condition. A photo posted on social media showed personal belongings and a bucket with an item on fire inside on the floor of a train carriage.
Emergency services swarmed the area, which was taped off behind a large cordon. Police advised people to stay away.
Chris Wildish, a passenger on the train, told Sky News that he saw flames coming out of what appeared to be a white bucket wrapped in a foil bag. He said he could see what appeared to be wires coming out of the bucket, and detected “a very strong smell of chemicals.”
Shuchen Warner, a teacher who was on her way to work, said she was in the subway car when “suddenly I hear a big bang, I turned left, and I saw a flame surge” just before the doors of the train opened.
Witnesses described chaos as passengers rushed to flee across a crowded platform, pushing toward exit stairs. People jumped over other to escape and there were people injured and screaming, they said.
Ben Lee said as his train stopped at the station a wave of people started running down the platform. “The most worrying part of it was the rush to get off the platform,” he said. “It was a stairs-only exit ... it could have been a classic crush situation.”
Police said in a statement that it is too early to confirm the cause. But Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing, declared it “a terrorist incident.”
Six fire engines, two fire rescue unit and around 50 firefighters and specialist officers were on the scene.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a message on his official Facebook page that London “utterly condemns the hideous individuals who attempt to use terror to harm us and destroy our way of life. As London has proven again and again, we will never be intimidated or defeated by terrorism.”
Richard Aylmer-Hall, described by Sky News as an eyewitness, told the broadcaster that ambulance crews arrived at the scene swiftly and began treating people hurt in the rush to exit the station, which he described as “total, chaotic panic.”
“I didn’t see anybody who had been injured by the actual explosion,” he said. “It was just a small fire in a bag as far as I could see,” he said.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said she will chair a meeting in London of senior government and security officials in response to the terrorist incident later Friday
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged Londoners to keep calm. “Everybody should keep calm and go about their lives in the normal way,” he told Sky News.
The U.K. has been on edge for months after suffering a series of deadly terror attacks this year. British security services describe the threat to the U.K. from terrorism as “severe,” the fourth rung on a five-rung scale.
In March, an Islamist terrorist killed five, including a policeman, in a van and knife attack in and around Parliament. In May, a suicide bomber in May killed 22 people at a pop concert in the northwestern British city of Manchester.
And in June, three Islamist extremists rammed pedestrians with a van on London Bridge and stabbed others, killing eight people and injuring dozens before they were shot and killed by police. That was swiftly followed by an an attack targeting Muslims leaving Ramadan prayers. One man died and eight others were rushed to the hospital when an assailant plowed a rented van into a crowd outside an east London mosque.