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Four bombs in 50 minutes - Britain suffers its worst-ever terror attack

July 7, 2005
Guardian UK

At least 38 people were killed yesterday and more than 700 injured as terrorists struck at the heart of London, causing the biggest loss of life in a terrorist attack on mainland Britain.

In a series of coordinated strikes, explosive devices were detonated on three underground trains and a bus travelling through central London during the morning rush hour.

Last night it was feared the death toll could rise, with the explosions leaving many people seriously injured.

Police denied that they had recovered any unexploded devices. But a source told The Guardian that three controlled explosions had been carried out on "suspect devices".

Furthermore Vincent Cannistraro, the former head of the CIA's counter-terrorism centre, told The Guardian that "two unexploded bombs" were recovered as well as "mechanical timing devices".

Emergency services rushed to east, west and central London as the bombs went off in sequence and without warning over a 50-minute period.

The first device exploded at 8.51am on a Circle line train between Aldgate East and Liverpool Street stations. Seven people were killed.

At 8.56am a second device exploded on a train between King's Cross and Russell Square, killing 21 people.

At 9.17am there was another blast on a train at Edgware Road station which blew a hole through a wall into another train on an adjoining platform. Two other trains were affected and seven people were killed.

At 9.47am a fourth blast blew the top off a doubledecker bus in Tavistock Square, central London, possibly killing more than a dozen people.

As the emergency operation swung into operation, the tube and bus network was shut down and ordinary Londoners began a desperate effort to help the terrified and the injured. Passengers, their faces bloodied, blackened and cut, were comforted by underground staff and passersby. Many rushed from offices and shops to help paramedics.

Witnesses described scenes of devastation. Geraldine Formon, who was in Russell Square, said: "I saw at least five people jump from the top deck of the bus. Half of it was blown away. They were jumping on to the street to escape. It was such a big explosion and the bus was packed as the tube was closed. People were covered with dust and debris."

Jackie Head, who was travelling on the King's Cross train, said the effect had been instantaneous. "Suddenly there was a massive bang, the train jolted. There was immediately smoke everywhere and it was hot and everybody panicked. People thought they were just going to suffocate."

Intelligence and anti-terrorist officials said last night there was little doubt that a group affiliated to or inspired by al-Qaida had carried out the attacks.

Tony Blair last night praised the "stoicism and resilience" of Londoners in the face of yesterday's onslaught on the capital's transport system by bombers he implied were Islamist terrorists.

"We know these people act in the name of Islam but we also know the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims here and abroad are decent and law-abiding people who abhor this act of terrorism," he said in a televised statement from Downing Street.

Last night Jack Straw, the foreign secretary underlined this when he told a TV interview: "There's an assumption that this is an al-Qaida-based organisation. It has the hallmarks of an al-Qaida-based organisation and also its ruthlessness. News of the bombings was relayed to Mr Blair at the G8 summit in Gleneagles. After reading a joint statement from the G8 leaders, he rushed to London for meetings with security chiefs.

In the afternoon, as Mr Blair chaired a meeting of Cobra - the top-level emergency group - an Islamist website posted a statement claiming the attacks had been carried out by a European cell of al-Qaida. A body calling itself the Secret Organisation of the al-Qaida Jihad in Europe said the attacks were in retaliation for Britain's involvement in US-led operations. The statement, which could not be immediately confirmed, said: "Rejoice for it is time to take revenge against the British Zionist crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The heroic mujahideen 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."

Scotland Yard said the four devices had been "conventional explosives", not containing chemical or biological material, but could not initially say what size the devices were, whether they had been carried by suicide bombers or whether they had been left in packages on the trains and the bus.

The deputy assistant Met commissioner, Brian Paddick, said: "This clearly was a callous attack ... deliberately designed to kill and injure innocent members of the public."

Mr Paddick said the security level in London had been high: "We are content that the security level was appropriate, notwithstanding the G8 summit."

He said there were 1,500 Met officers in Scotland, guarding the G8 summit and 31,000 officers in London.

Mr Paddick said the emergency services had rehearsed for such a scenario and that the plans had worked as they should have done. He said there was no intelligence about other devices but he warned people to be vigilant.

While concentrating on the emergency response and the effort to catch the bombers, Scotland Yard also activated long-established plans to reassure the public, especially ethnic minority groups who fear they may become targets.

Senior community figures were alerted immediately and members of Muslim groups were called to an urgent meeting. The Guardian has learned that within hours of the attacks, 30,000 abusive and threatening emails were sent to the Muslim Council of Britain's website.

Ken Livingstone, London's mayor, was in Singapore celebrating London's successful Olympic bid but last night returned to London. In a statement he said: "This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at presidents or prime ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old.

"It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever."

He added: "That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith - it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other."

It is known that Scotland Yard had previously intercepted up to eight attempts to cause a terrorist atrocity in the UK. A police source told the Guardian that the attacks were "not on the intelligence radar".

The source said there were believed to have been up to 40 people on board the bus that exploded at Tavistock Square, but it is still not known how many people died in that blast, or whether a suicide bomber was among them.

One theory is that a bomber may have been on his way to a tube station, or the bus bomb may have been planned to cause maximum panic when people flocked to buses after the tube was evacuated.

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