A killing spree at London Bridge could have been even worse if attackers had succeeded in hiring a bigger vehicle, it’s been claimed.
The Islamists behind the attack, which left eight dead, had tried to hire a seven-and-a-half tonne truck, police have revealed.
But they failed to provide correct payment details and so had to use a smaller vehicle.
The attackers – Briton Khuram Butt, Italian Youssef Zaghawa and Rachid Redouane – also attached pink ceramic knives to their wrists and placed bags of sand in the back of the van to increase the weight.
Petrol bombs were also discovered in the vehicle.
“Getting hold of a 7.5-tonne lorry – the effects could have been even worse,” said Dean Haydon, head of the UK capital’s counter-terrorism unit.
Haydon went on to provide extensive details about the movements of the attackers on the day of the rampage.
On Saturday morning, Butt, who Haydon said was believed to be the ringleader, tried to rent a seven-and-a-half tonne truck but did not provided payment details.
It was not clear why he could not pay, or if he lacked the necessary licence to drive such a vehicle. But his attempt echoed last July’s attack in Nice, France, when a 19-tonne truck was driven into crowds, killing 86 people.
Shortly before 1700 GMT, Butt received a text message confirming his hire of a Renault van instead.
At about 1730 GMT, the men drove to pick up the van before heading to Zaghba’s home in east London.
At 1838 GMT they left and two hours later the van reached London Bridge which they drove along twice before targeting pedestrians on the sidewalk on their third run.
Three people on the bridge were struck and killed by the van, believed to have been driven by Butt, before the men abandoned the vehicle and began to attack people in bars and restaurants in the nearby bustling Borough Market area.
The men were armed with identical 12-inch (30cm) pink ceramic knives, strapped to their wrists with leather bound around the handle. They were also wearing fake suicide belts – plastic water bottles wrapped in duct tape.
Haydon added: “We believe their safe house was in Barking Road in East London, so E8 in particular, we have found evidence in a top floor flat at premises there which certainly links them to the attack.
“In the past week or so we’ve seen 18 people arrested across various parts of London and outside. And that is all trying to understand whether in fact anybody had wider knowledge, whether in fact they assisted or supported these three attackers.”
Eight people lost their lives in the attack on London Bridge and Borough Market and the killers were shot dead by armed police.
Authorities say 282 witnesses from 19 counties have come forward, but detectives are calling on others who may have witnessed the carnage to contact them.
Police have installed security barriers running alongside pavements at eight bridges across the River Thames, and Haydon said similar protection was being considered at other locations.