The carnage of the London Bridge attack could have been worse if one of the attackers’ credit cards had not been declined when he first tried to rent a larger truck that could have killed more people, according to London police.
The bloodthirsty Islamist gang, all shot dead within eight minutes after the first emergency call, were felled by police before they could make their way back to the van and a cache of petrol bombs.
In a rare glimpse into the week-long investigation, police also disclosed a copy of the Koran opened at a page “describing martyrdom” was found at one of the attackers’ home.
The truck attacker Khuram Butt’s first sought to rent was a 7.5 tonne truck similar to the one used in the Nice attack last year that killed 86 people and injured hundreds in the resort town in the south of France.
After his payment was declined, Butt and two accomplices rented the smaller, cheaper van they ploughed into crowds before leaping from the vehicle and lunching a stabbing rampage that left eight people dead and nearly 50 injured.
Two young Australians were among the victims – Kirsty Boden and Sare Zelenak – were among the dead in the attack, the third such deadly outrage in Britain in less than three months.
After leaving the white Transit van the men used 12-inch knives with bright pink blades, according to Dean Haydon, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter-Terrorism Command. Police believe Butt was behind the wheel.
Investigators believe three victims were killed on the bridge, including one man who was thrown into the Thames. The attackers then left the vehicle and stabbed five people to death around London’s busy Borough Market, Haydon said.
“When I come back to Butt trying to get hold of a 7.5 tonne lorry, the effect could have been even worse,” Haydon said.
More than a dozen wine bottles filled with flammable liquid and wrapped in rags were found in the van, along with a pair of blow torches.
Police also found a number of office chairs, a quantity of gravel and a suitcase in the vehicle.
Detectives believe the gravel may have been placed in the vehicle to make it heavier and more lethal, or as part of a cover to justify hiring it. The chairs could have been used to convince family and friends the trio were moving furniture.
The three attackers wore fake suicide belts consisting of plastic water bottles wrapped in grey duct tape.
Eighteen people have been arrested in connection with last week’s attack. All but five have been released. Searches are continuing.
Butt, who police consider the attack ringleader, was free on bail after being arrested last October for fraud.
He had also been repeatedly reported to police for violent behaviour and trying to recruit young children to Islamic State.
Butt featured in the documentary, The Jihadis Next Door, where he was seen with a group of men unfurling a black-and-white flag Islamic State flag.