ALLIES ON ALERT, HUNT LONDON BOMBERS
The scene: Dozens killed, hundreds injured
The manhunt: Al Qaeda claims responsibility
At home: Chicago, other U.S. cities ramp up transit security
July 8, 2005
BY CHRISTINE SPOLAR AND TOM HUNDLEY/Tribune correspondents
LONDON - The United States and its allies Thursday ratcheted up security and deployed intelligence and police investigators to find the bombers responsible for a series of brazen and coordinated morning rush-hour attacks in London that killed at least 37 people and injured more than 700 on subway trains and a double-decker bus.
British officials said the four explosions bore the "hallmarks of an Al Qaeda-related attack" similar to the March 2004 bombings of commuter trains in Madrid. But they could not confirm the authenticity of an Internet statement claiming responsibility by a group called the Secret Organization of Al Qaeda in Europe.
Survivors who staggered bleeding and stunned into the streets told of being trapped underground as subway cars filled with smoke. "I didn't hear anything ... just a flash of light. I heard people screaming," said Chris Randall, 28.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, who the day before had celebrated London's selection as site of the 2012 Olympics, said the bombings were designed to coincide with the Group of Eight summit of the world's leading industrial nations in Scotland, an event that had dominated the thoughts of British security officials.
"They are trying to use the slaughter of innocent people to cower us, to frighten us out of doing the things that we want to do," Blair said from his London office. " . . . and they should not, and they must not, succeed."
The explosions' effects rippled across the U.S. and Europe. In Washington, officials raised to orange the national terror threat level for mass transit. Chicago dispatched police to train platforms in a show of heightened alert, and Mayor Richard Daley assured citizens that there was no reason to believe the city was threatened.
Both Blair and President Bush, whose administrations have centered on fighting terrorism and an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, portrayed the explosions as bitter reminders of the stakes at hand.
"We will not yield to these people, we will not yield to the terrorists," Bush told reporters in Scotland. "We will find them. We will bring them to justice."
Much of the investigation will fall to British officials steeled by decades of bombings by the Irish Republican Army. They will review tapes filmed by thousands of closed-circuit cameras installed in the London Underground and at commuter train stations during those years.
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many Britons have seen a similar attack on their homeland as inevitable, given the close alliance between Bush and Blair and the two nations' cooperation in Afghanistan and Iraq. But officials credited the emergency plans they developed in the intervening years with making evacuations and medical response as smooth as possible.
The bombings--the deadliest in Britain since World War II--came with stunning swiftness as millions made their way into the center of London to start the workday. Three Underground trains were hit within 26 minutes. Half an hour later a bomb ripped the roof off a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square near the British Museum.
The first blast hit at 8:51 a.m. in a crowded train in the tunnel between the Liverpool Street and the Moorgate Stations in London's financial district. At least seven were killed.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, in London on a business trip, was half a block from the site when the bomb exploded. He was not injured.
That blast was followed in quick succession by a blast on a Piccadilly line train in a deep tunnel between the Russell Square and King's Cross Stations at 8:56 that killed 21 commuters and a third at 9:17 on a train approaching the Edgware Road Station. The latter explosion damaged a second train and resulted in at least seven deaths.
The bomb on the red double-decker bus went off at 9:47, killing at least two people.
Metropolitan Police Cmdr. Brian Paddick said police did not yet know whether suicide bombers carried out the attacks. He said that four bombs were used and that the explosives used were conventional.
Senior intelligence officials briefing reporters in Washington said that timing devices appeared to have been used in some of the bombings and that there was no firm evidence that suicide operatives carried out the attacks.
Power surge first suspected
Underground authorities first thought they were dealing with an electrical power surge but quickly realized it was something far more deadly. All trains were ordered to station platforms so passengers could be evacuated and the system could be shut down, according to Tim O'Toole, an Underground spokesman.
"We didn't know how many more incidents there might be," O'Toole said.
About 500 Underground trains, some carrying up to 900 people, were safely evacuated in little more than an hour, he said.
The most difficult evacuation was the Piccadilly line train, where panicked and choking commuters had to be led out of the deep, smoke-filled tunnel by rescue crews.
As sirens wailed across the city, emergency crews set up outside the Edgware Road Station. At Tavistock Square, not far from the British Museum and an area crowded with inexpensive tourist hotels, huge white tarpaulins were raised to thwart onlookers.
From hospital beds and street corners, some of the injured recounted moments of horror and desperation deep inside the smoke- filled bowels of the subway system.
Randall, whose train was rocked by an explosion as it approached Edgware Road Station, said his car quickly filled with smoke. He was able to walk to the station concourse and saw six or seven people on the floor.
"A lot of people with blood on their faces and ripped clothes. ... A number of people were fine," he told reporters at his bedside at St. Mary's Hospital, where he was treated for cuts and burns.
Londoners tuned to radio and television reports, trying to digest the magnitude of the attacks and to figure out whether they could maneuver through the city, which is so heavily dependent on mass transportation.
An estimated 3 million people use the subway system every day in London, and none of them had much option but to walk home through a persistent rain. Taxis were scarce, and hotels were reporting heavy business.
"It's been pandemonium," one taxi driver said as he pulled away from Paddington rail station.
Heathrow and Gatwick Airports were open, but incoming travelers were stranded at the airports. Rail service was suspended for several hours; the first trains from Heathrow began arriving downtown in midafternoon.
The streets of central London were unusually and eerily clear. Thousands of businesses simply closed in the morning. The entire subway system was shuttered in the morning, and at nightfall workers were posting signs that the system was still unusable.
No trains, heavy rains
Still, a skeleton bus service began running again around 9 p.m., and a No. 14 bus, a double-decker carrying a handful of riders, was seen rolling through the city center. The rail system that travels beyond the city limits began lurching back to life in midafternoon, but major stations--including Victoria and Paddington --were closed repeatedly by bomb threats.
Some commuters waited hours outside train stations before abandoning hope and beginning to walk home. "We've been walking for three hours," said Jenny Harding, 55, who was soaked by the rain in her effort to return to her home in suburban Surrey.
Hospital workers had been primed for major emergencies, and supervisors at two of the busiest hospitals Thursday said their work had gone smoothly.
Royal London Hospital received 208 patients. By nightfall, 75 still were in its care, officials said. St. Mary's Hospital, near the Paddington Station, received more than 60 patients.
Alastair Wilson, clinical director for emergency care at Royal London, said many of the people suffered burns and "airway burns that make it difficult to breathe."
"We're not exactly inexperienced, as an institution, with bombs," he said, referring to the IRA attacks. "It's not a joy to find them back ... but we still know what to do."
Though the police have not named the attackers, Blair said, "We know that these people act in the name of Islam, but we also know that the vast majority of Muslims here and abroad are decent and law- abiding people who abhor this act of terrorism every bit as much as we do."
Britain has one of Europe's largest Muslim populations, and community leaders were fearful of a backlash. Iqbal Sacranie, leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, was quick to condemn the attacks.
"These terrorists, these evil people want to demoralize us as a nation and divide us. All of must unite in helping the police to hunt these murderers down," he said.
Bush, who remained in Scotland, said the war against terrorism would continue. "On the one hand you have people working to alleviate poverty and rid the world of the pandemic of AIDS and ways to have a clean environment," the president said, referring to the G- 8 agenda, "and on the other you have people working to kill other people."
Thursday's terrorist attack was the deadliest in Britain's history, exceeding the 1998 Omagh bomb blast by an IRA splinter group that killed 29.
The group that claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack, the Secret Organization of Al Qaeda in Europe, posted a message on a Web site boasting that "the heroic mujahedeen have carried out a blessed raid in London--Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic in its northern, southern, eastern and western quarters."
The statement also warned of attacks on Italy and Denmark, two countries that have contributed troops to international operations in Iraq.
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