London Quickly Recovers after Terror Attack
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
The article below was written in the late evening of 7 July, the day London suffered its worst ever terrorist attack. It has been updated.
London has suffered its worst ever terrorist attack which has left a shocking death toll of 49 confirmed killed and 700 injured, many of whom are in critical condition. The city might also be the first in Western Europe to experience a suicide bombing. Yet, despite the loss of life and massive disruption, by late Thursday evening an air of calm and semi-normality had almost miraculously returned to the city.
Extensive training since September 11 by the emergency services allowed them to quickly and efficiently deal with the crisis. There was no sense of panic in the city, despite the chaos and confusion created by the transport network grinding to a halt. It almost feels as if a terror attack can now be handled in the same efficient manner as any other major emergency.
Since September 11 and the Madrid bombings, Londoners have been expecting a terror attack, knowing that their city was on Osama bin-Laden's hit list. Last year, London's police commissioner even said a terror attack was "inevitable".
Three almost simultaneous explosions on the capital's subway trains and a later, possible suicide bombing, on a bus completely paralyzed the entire transport system, stranding millions of people. The outrage, being dubbed 7/7 (July 7), bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism: ruthlessly coordinated multiple explosions with no apparent warning and executed during the morning rush hour to maximize casualties and media coverage.
The first explosion occurred on a subway train near the city's financial center at 08:50, trapping passengers on a Circle Line train between Aldgate and Liverpool Street Station. Adrian Tindale, a taxi driver who passed the station a few minutes after the explosion, said, "It was unbelievable. Huge plumes of black smoke poured out of the station and there were dozens of dazed-looking people wandering around." At least seven people are confirmed killed in this attack.
Within a minute, a second subway explosion occurred on the Piccadilly Line, between Russell Square and King's Cross stations in one of the city's deepest subway tunnels. At least 21 people died in this attack, which emergency services found difficult to cope with because of the depth.
Mick James, a station supervisor on the Piccadilly Line, said, "The massive explosion blew a hole in the tunnel wall and the tracks have been damaged. It will take quite some time to repair this kind of damage."
About 60 seconds after the first explosion, a third subway blast occurred in the central area, this time on a Circle Line train leaving Edgware Road Station. An unidentified eyewitness at the scene told BBC News, "It was just so terrible. There were people running around on the tracks screaming and shouting for us to help. Some had terrible injuries. It was just so awful." At least seven people are known to have died in this incident.
The fourth and final explosion was set off on a bus at 09:47, killing at least two and perhaps many more. The vehicle was traveling near Tavistock Square in the heart of London and not far from the site of the explosion at Russell Square.
Caroline Naluwemba, a driver who was near the bus which exploded, said, "I saw the bus in front of me and the whole roof just suddenly came off." She added, "The bus must have been full, because it was a very busy time of day."
Suicide bomber suspected on bus
Some reports say a suicide bomber may have been responsible for the bus blast, but the authorities have not been able to confirm this. If it was a suicide bombing, it would be the first time such an attack has occurred on British and Western European soil.
A police source, who did not wish to be identified, said, "We believe that the preliminary evidence indicates that the person, or persons, responsible for transporting this explosive device was killed when it was detonated. It is not yet possible to determine whether this was or was not a deliberate or accidental act." He added, "This was a substantial, well-coordinated attack, and probably involved a fairly large number of individuals." Other experts think that a single, small terror cell might be responsible.
Police are also apparently examining the possibility of whether suicide bombers could have been responsible for any of the subway attacks, which all occurred between stations. At this stage the media are emphasizing that this is just speculation.
An Islamist website posted a statement, purportedly from al-Qaeda, claiming responsibility. While British experts questioned the valid of this particular claim, there is general agreement that an al-Qaeda-inspired group was behind the attack. The British government has already indicated that it believes al-Qaeda is the culprit.
London Mayor Ken Livingston, reaching out to all the capital's citizens, said in an emotional speech, "The attack was aimed at ordinary working class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christians, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt at slaughter, irrespective of any consideration for age, class or religion or whatever."
City returns to normal
In the initial hours after the explosions, a strange calm descended on the normally noisy city that for once was devoid of cars because police had cordoned off large blocks of the capital near the bombing sites. Tens of thousands of stranded commuters and bewildered tourist crammed the pavements as walking became the primary means of transportation for most people.
The transport system normally ferries about 3 million people around the city every day, so its sudden absence created an endless stream of marching people flooding down every street.
As the overcast morning turned to afternoon, the city steadily fought to regain some measure of normality. As the cordoned-off areas were gradually opened up, tens of thousands of workers were released from temporary confinement in their buildings and given permission to evacuate. Many shops and business closed early to give their staff a fighting chance of getting home. Many had to walk for three to four hours as the subway system remained suspended the entire day and no buses were running in the central area. People took all this in their stride and somehow everyone seemed to get home or find somewhere to sleep.
As the clock crept towards midnight, most roads in Central London near the blast sites were reopened. Bus services were restored to normal. In the late evening, it was announced that a limited subway service would be operating in the morning, although some stations would remain closed. Defying the odds, the city had almost clawed its way back to normality.
As if to confirm that normality was regaining the upper hand, politicians began debating why the attack had occurred. George Galloway, the controversial independent anti-Iraq war lawmaker, told parliament that "the hatred and bitterness of Iraq" was partially responsible for "feeding the terrorism of bin-Laden".
Jack Straw, the British Foreign Minister, utterly rejected this line of reasoning in a BBC interview, saying, "The world itself has become more dangerous in this millennium since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001."
(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. A different version of this article first appeared in Asia Times Online on 8 July 2005, ,
http://www.atimes.com, and is republished with permission.)