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Police Diffuse Car Bombs in London

June 29, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Catherine Mayer, welcome. Was the interception of this Mercedes before it exploded the result of any new anti-terror measures, spending or technology?

CATHERINE MAYER, Time Magazine: No, actually it was just a matter of luck. The ambulance service was called to a nightclub in central London very near to Piccadilly Circus, which will be known to a lot of your viewers. And when the ambulance men were in attendance, they noticed a vehicle parked just outside the nightclub that was filling with smoke, so they thought that it may be some kind of vehicle fire, and went to investigate, and discovered the first of the bombs.

RAY SUAREZ: Was the nightclub the presumed target for this bomb?

CATHERINE MAYER: Well, that’s not clear. It would, I think, seem to be clearer, however, since the discovery of the second car bomb, which had also been parked around the corner from the first, that if not that nightclub, then that area was intended.

Originally, there was a second and quite feasible theory that, because of the smoke, that the bomber may have panicked and fled and just left the car wherever he happened to be. And, of course, this is just two days after we have a new prime minister here, so there was some suspicion that the bomber may have been trying to drive to Westminster, which is very near there.

The second car

RAY SUAREZ: Let's talk more about the second car. Have police had much to say about what was inside it, what they had to do to neutralize it?

CATHERINE MAYER: Well, they've just actually told us what that was about. For a large part of today, one of the most expensive parts of London has been evacuated. It's a street known to Monopoly players and hotel guests called Park Lane. There's very little on Park Lane except for posh hotels and very expensive flats.

There is also, however, a car pound underneath part of Hyde Park. And to that pound, which the public don't know about, cars are taken that are illegally parked in the West End. What seems to have happened is that somebody last night, a ticket warden, found this car illegally parked and asked for it to be towed and didn't notice that there was anything wrong.

Somehow, the authorities in the meantime, very luckily, have managed to compare notes and realized that this had happened and found this car in the pound. It's a very similar Mercedes to the first one, and its cargo was also similar. In other words, it was full of gas canisters. Now, we don't know what the gas is yet. And it was full of gasoline containers and also nails.

Linked to larger plots?

RAY SUAREZ: Does this method of putting together a bomb link these two automobiles with any previous plots or arrests in Britain?

CATHERINE MAYER: Yes and no. There haven't been any bombs of this nature in Britain. However, there is a man serving time here called Dhiren Barot, who was -- he's been sentenced to 40 years. His plot -- he had a number of plots. They were all contained in a 39-page document that he presented to al-Qaida.

And one of the ideas he had was something he referred to as the gas limo project, which involved packing stretch limos with almost exactly this combination of items. I don't think he mentioned the nails, but certainly the gas canisters. In his case, he was talking about propane.

There's been a second plot, which the secret services here uncovered, in which a nightclub was intended to be the target. That was something called Operation Crevice, and they talked about a nightclub as being the sort of symbol of Western decadence.

Keeping the public safe

RAY SUAREZ: Have the police made any specific requests of the public to be on the lookout for suspects or a group or any individuals connected with these cars?

CATHERINE MAYER: They've certainly asked for heightened vigilance. Everyone's asked for that. The problem with this -- you know, at the beginning, we talked about whether this was luck or planning that uncovered this, and it was luck.

And the security services themselves say there is no way, with the amount of terrorist activity that there is in this day and age, for them to be on top of every plot. The only way that they can possibly hope to intercept these kinds of plots is for the public to stay alert.

RAY SUAREZ: Catherine Mayer of Time magazine, thanks for being with us.

CATHERINE MAYER: You're welcome.