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Reports of gunfire spark panic in London, but police find nothing

Police set up a cordon outside the Oxford Circus underground station in central London where gunfire was reported on Friday.
(Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP/Getty Images)

Shoppers scattered in panic and police flooded one of London’s busiest areas Friday after multiple reports of shots being fired at the Oxford Circus subway station.

But an hour later police said they had found no sign of any gunfire, suspects or casualties and declared the incident over.

The panic erupted on one of the busiest shopping days of the year in a jittery city that has been hit by four violent attacks this year.

The area, full of big-name chain shops and department stores, was packed with shoppers browsing Black Friday sales.

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Amid multiple reports of shots being fired, commuters and shoppers ran from the Oxford Circus station and took shelter in nearby stores.

“I was next to the tube station and everyone started screaming and shouting and then a flood of people came up the stairs,” said Greg Owen, 37.

Police said they were responding “as if the incident is terrorist related,” sending armed officers to the scene, cordoning off several blocks and telling people to avoid the area.

Some stores filled with people taking shelter; others were evacuated. At the upscale department store Selfridges, shoppers were ordered to leave. At least three heavily armed men believed to be police could be seen on the escalators inside.

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About an hour after the first reports of gunshots, the Metropolitan Police said officers “have not located any trace of any suspects, evidence of shots fired or causalities.” The subway station reopened soon afterward.

British Transport Police said one woman suffered a minor injury while leaving the station. The force, which patrols the train and subway network, said it was investigating what had caused the initial report of shots inside the station.

After declaring the incident over, the Metropolitan Police said that “given the nature of the information received, the Met responded in line with our existing operation as if the incident was terrorism, including the deployment of armed officers.”

Britons in general, and Londoners in particular, have been jumpy after a string of extremist attacks this year, including deadly attacks using vehicles to hit pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, London Bridge and outside a London mosque.

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Britain’s official terrorist threat level is set at “severe,” indicating an attack is considered highly likely.


UPDATES:

10:50 a.m.: This article was updated with the subway station reopening after police declared the incident over.

10:05 a.m.: This article was updated with reports of shots fired.

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This article was originally published at 9:20 a.m.


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