Second al Qaeda Attack on Central London Was More Brazen than the First
The most striking feature of London’s second al Qaeda bombing rampage in two weeks, Thursday, July 21, is the bombers’ brashness. Like the first team on July 1, they carried the bombs in bags, but the second group did not hesitate to activate them in full sight of the passengers. In two of the four incidents, the train coming into The Oval underground station and the bus in the east London suburb of Hackney, the terrorists opened their bags and activated their detonators in front of witnesses, and then ran off. Operating under so many eyes may have caused them to fumble and be careless. And so not all the devices went off properly and only one person was hurt. A rucksack was also left in the Hackney bus for police specialists to examine.
For the moment, two terrorists are on the loose. If they were not suiciders, then safe hideouts may have been prepared for them.
At the Warren Street station, gunshots were heard on a platform, indication of an encounter with a suspect.
A third bomber, described as dark-skinned and Asian, entered the University College Hospital near the Warren Street station after the explosion. He was seen carrying a large bag with wires sticking out of it. Some 30 armed police with sniffer dogs rushed into the hospital. Several hours later he had still not been flushed out.
The fact that the four attacks were almost simultaneous is an al Qaeda hallmark, indicative the group’s predilection for coordinated strikes.
But four more unusual features make this incident especially dangerous:
1. For the first time al Qaeda terrorists struck without concealment, in broad daylight, in a European city. They obviously found the new security measures London put in place after the July 7 attack permeable.
2. For the first time, al Qaeda carried out two consecutive attacks in the same city and selected the same targets. This means the terrorist organization has prepared several teams for a wave of attacks in London, and possibly other British cities.
3. Al Qaeda’s second strike points to British intelligence still groping in the dark and inability to predict what al Qaeda will do next. After unearthing the names of the first four bombers, the MI5 is at sea as to the identities and whereabouts of their controllers, organization and its senior plotters.
4. In two of the stations targeted, a strong, acrid smell raised the suspicion of a chemical attack. It is too soon to determine the type of explosives used, some of which did not explode, or the source of the smell. First tests indicated that no chemical agents were present at any of the crime sites.
Prime minister Tony Blair and the police commissioner Ian Blair did their best to radiate calm and persuade people to go back to normal business. But there is no glossing over the fact that London is in the grip of an al Qaeda offensive and British security services have no real answers.