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Terror attacks stun London

Hasan Suroor

37 killed, over 300 injured as bombs go off on bus and at underground stations; Blair vows to defeat terrorism



EXPERTS CHECK: British forensic experts walk away from a London bus which was hit by one of four blasts in central London on Thursday killing over 40 people and reportedly injuring more than 350 others. - Photo: AP

LONDON: Britain was in a state of shock on Thursday after a series of blasts ripped through London's underground train network, killing at least 37 persons and causing mayhem in a city which only hours ago witnessed scenes of jubilation after winning the bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

Up to 300 persons were feared injured, some seriously, and many were being treated for trauma after they were rescued by emergency services personnel. Some were still trapped in trains and underground stations several hours after the blasts.

Seven explosions

In what was described as the "stuff of nightmare," at least seven explosions took place in less than an hour, triggering panic as thousands of shocked commuters — many bleeding, their faces covered with soot — streamed out of tube stations.

Till late in the evening, no group claimed responsibility for what was suspected to be a well-coordinated terrorist operation reminiscent of the Madrid train blasts last year.

Metropolitan Chief Ian Blair cautioned against "media speculation" but the BBC quoted unnamed Arab experts as saying the incidents seemed to fit the "pattern" associated with the Al-Qaeda. There had been no specific warning of an impending attack but he recalled previous police warnings about a terrorist threat to London.

"We have always said that London has been and is a terrorist target," Sir Ian said.

Al-Qaeda offshoot to blame?

There were reports that the web site of an extremist group, believed to be a European offshoot of the Al-Qaeda, had posted a statement claiming responsibility, and the "phraseology" appeared similar to that normally used by the outfit.

The first blast was reported shortly before 9 a.m. at the Aldgate station in East London. Within minutes, another explosion took place at the Liverpool Street station in the heart of London's business centre followed by blasts at the Edgware, King's Cross, Old Street and Russell Square stations.

At Tavistock Square, a device exploded on a double-decker tourist bus, ripping off its roof and resulting in several casualties. An eyewitness said the bus was "ripped open like a can of sardines and bodies were everywhere."

By mid-morning, the entire public transport system was shut down and the police advised people to "stay where they are" and remain calm. London remained without trains and buses throughout the day, leaving people stranded across the city and at airports, adding to the sense of panic and confusion.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was chairing a summit of world leaders in Gleneagles, Scotland, rushed to London to review the situation even as the summit continued.

In a TV address, a visibly shaken Mr. Blair said it was "reasonably clear" that the explosions were a "terrorist attack ... designed and meant to coincide with the G8" summit. He said terrorists would not be able to destroy "our values and our way of life."

"Whatever they do, it is our determination that they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear in this country and in other civilised nations throughout the world," he said. Each of the leaders at the summit had "some experience of the effects of terrorism and all the leaders ... share our complete resolution to defeat this terrorism."

Deeply shocked: Queen

World leaders attending the summit condemned the attacks, calling them an assault on "civilised peoples everywhere." U.S. President George W. Bush said the war on terror would go on.

In Parliament, Home Secretary Charles Clarke confirmed only four incidents, saying "precise details" were still not available. He "strongly advised" people not to travel. The Queen said she was "deeply shocked."

Dazed eyewitnesses said everything happened suddenly. One commuter recalled that there was "a massive bang" and then "smoke everywhere." "It was hot and everybody panicked. People started screaming and crying," he said.

Another eyewitness said the train in which she was travelling was "running along another train when there was suddenly a loud bang and electricity in our coach went off." People did not know what had happened until emergency services started evacuating them.

One passenger, who was on a train at King's Cross, said: "The train didn't get very far out of the station when there was an explosion. Loads of glass showered down over everyone. The glass on the doors in between all the carriages shattered. There was a lot of smoke and a lot of dust. ... I could hear screams. People were trying to work out what happened. A lot of people were covered in blood."

Security across Britain was tightened and community leaders called for harmony amid fears over possible attempts to disturb the peace.

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