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East London Bombing: `We knew Brick Lane would be next, but thought it wouldn't be so quick'

THERE HAD been a sense foreboding in Brick Lane all week. The normally colourful and vibrant street in London's East End was subdued and uneasy, with anxious conversations about the threat of racist attack. Immediately after the bomb in Brixton, phone calls and letters warned local Bangladeshi-born businessmen and community leaders: "You are next".

Yesterday Brick Lane and its cosmopolitan mix of people were coming to terms, amid shattered windows and a burnt-out restaurant, with what happened and what the future holds. Years ago, together they fought off skinhead thugs who terrorised them, but this was a new danger, from an enemy they could not see and confront.

The fear is not only that the bombers may be back, but that the hard- earned commercial success of the area, which was rapidly becoming an international tourist attraction, may now be in jeopardy.

What exactly did happen is not clear yet and accounts have been contradictory. The bomb was in a black Reebok bag left on the pavement in Hanbury Street, about 30 yards from the junction with Brick Lane, with early evening shoppers and parents with children streaming by.

At around 5.45pm a man picked up the bag and walked with it to the Brick Lane police office, to find it shut. Officers say he put the bag in his car, a maroon Ford Sierra, nearby in front of Empee Silk Fabrics Ltd at numbers 42 and 44. He may have intended to drive it to another police station, but then when he realised what he was transporting could be a bomb, he ran and called the police.

That was when the device exploded, lifting the car into the air and blowing the roof 25 yards. A green Volvo estate car parked next to it was set ablaze, as was the nearby Cafe Naz restaurant.

Six people, all Bangladeshis, were hit by flying glass and shrapnel, although none seriously. All were treated in hospital and went home. The man believed to have found the bag was also said to have been injured. Part of a clock was found, indicating there may have been a timing device. Later a 999 call was made from New Malden, south-west London, claiming Combat 18 was responsible.

Yesterday, at Scotland Yard, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alan Fry refused to give any details about the man who found the bag, apart from saying he was white. He had been interviewed by the police, and will be questioned again, but he was not under arrest.

After the blast, Rajah Miah, a councillor, said he saw "a car on fire with shrapnel and debris all over the place. I saw people with blood from glass injuries on their faces. Some people have been blown off their feet. It looked like war.

"But why were the police not taking any precautionary measures after all the phone calls? When the bomb went off the police were the last emergency service to arrive."

Emdad Tulukder, 44, was at the corner of Brick Lane and Fashion Street when he was lifted and crashed to the ground. With blood pouring down his head, he said: " It was very loud noise. A piece of glass as long as my hand was sticking into my skull. It could have been my eye, I could have been blinded. Why do people do this?"

It will take a while for the fear to dissipate. One man, who wished to be named only as Ali, said: "We knew it was going to be here. We have been saying that all week, but we never knew it was going to be that quick. There were rumours it would happen after Brixton - that Brick Lane would be next, then East Ham, then Southall."

Imam Uddin, a 59-year-old machine operator, said yesterday: " Everybody is worried this will happen again. It could be tomorrow or the next day. People feel afraid to go outside. This is a terrible thing."

Ahmed Sayid, a factory worker, said: " You would think after Brixton, the police would be better prepared. But now we have this."

Oona King, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, who is black and Jewish, has had hate mail from the White Wolves, a fascist group suspected of the attack. She said: "The East End has a long history of being resilient in the face of extreme right-wing attacks, those responsible must be caught, but what we do not need are vigilantes going around."

Abdal Ullah, 23, a member of the Tower Hamlets Youth Parliament, said: "The people around here are very level- headed and the best thing we can do now is allow our community leaders and the police to do their job."

Police say they have many hours of CCTV tape to check.