Two fully intact car bombs found in central London hold hundreds of clues about the people behind a suspected terrorist plot that could have killed hundreds.
Detectives are scouring the two vehicles for forensic evidence and examining hundreds of hours of CCTV footage for hints about the identities of the bombers.
Police already have a “crystal clear” CCTV image of a man “staggering” from the first car after parking it outside a West End nightclub, ABC News in the US reported. Scotland Yard refused to comment.
The vehicle, a Mercedes packed with petrol, nails and gas canisters, was left outside the Tiger Tiger club in Haymarket early yesterday.
Police said it was “clearly linked” to a second Mercedes which was discovered nearby in Cockspur Street before being unwittingly towed away by parking wardens to an underground car park off Park Lane.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke told a press conference at Scotland Yard last night: “There was a considerable amount of fuel and gas canisters, as in the first vehicle. There was also a substantial quantity of nails.
“This like the first device, was potentially viable and was made safe by explosives officers. The vehicles are clearly linked.”
Clues about when the cars travelled into the area, just yards from Piccadilly Circus, could be contained on CCTV cameras used to monitor London’s congestion charge, experts said.
Those cameras run 24 hours a day and will provide valuable back-up to images obtained from the scene.
Officers will also view footage from cameras owned by Westminster City Council and private venues such as theatres, clubs and restaurants.
Downing Street said there would be another meeting of the Government’s emergency response committee Cobra today.
The first car was only discovered by chance when a passing ambulance crew noticed strange fumes coming from the vehicle.
The paramedics were on a routine emergency call when they saw what appeared to be smoke coming from the car shortly before 2am.
Police were called and bomb disposal experts disabled the device by hand, saving crucial forensic evidence.
Senior officers said the car would have caused “carnage” if it had exploded.
Sources suggested one of the first officers on the scene averted disaster by disconnecting a mobile phone in the car which may have been used to trigger the explosion.
But Scotland Yard dismissed the claims as “speculation”.
The second Mercedes was issued with a parking ticket at about 2.30am and taken to a car pound in Hyde Park by Westminster Council at around 3.30am.
Mr Clarke said officers were doing “everything possible to protect the public” and promised there would be more police patrols.
He added: “The discovery of what appears to be a second bomb is obviously troubling, and reinforces the need for the public to be alert.”
The streets surrounding the first car bomb would have been extremely busy in the early hours with many popular nightspots closing between 2am and 3am.
Rajeshree Patel, who was in Tiger Tiger when it was evacuated, told BBC News 24 that about 500 people were in the nightclub at the time.
The failed car bombings carry chilling echoes of explosions in Iraq and Israel, where similar crude devices have killed hundreds.
Analysts said the timing, close to the anniversary of the July 7 bombings and soon after Gordon Brown entered Number 10, may also be significant.
It is also a reminder of two foiled terrorist plots in Britain, one of which aimed to target a London nightclub and another which considered using similar car bombs.
A spokeswoman for Tiger Tiger said an ambulance was called to the club at about 1am to treat a person taken ill.
“We understand that while they were there they noticed a Mercedes car parked near the club on the Haymarket which appeared to have smoke inside and called the police,” she said.
“The police have said it would be pure speculation to say that the club was the target.”