LONDON — A series of four explosions struck London’s public transportation system Thursday in what Prime Minister Tony Blair called a coordinated series of “barbaric” terrorist attacks, most likely to coincide with the opening of the G-8 summit in nearby Scotland.
At least 33 people were reported dead and at least 300 others were wounded. In unofficial reports, at least 40 people were said to be dead and 1,000 others were injured.
Brian Paddick of the London Police said in a press conference that there are seven confirmed fatalities in the first blast, 21 in the second and five in the third, which may have affected three trains in the Edgware Road train station. And in the fourth explosion, which involved a double-decker bus, there are fatalities but officials cannot yet confirm numbers.
“This clearly was a callous attack on purely innocent members of the public deliberately designed to kill and injure innocent members of the public,” Paddick said.
Sir Ian Blair, London’s police chief, said he was concerned the explosions were a coordinated attack but said he wouldn’t speculate on who was responsible. He said officials had found indications of explosives at one of the sites.
After several hours during which public officials cautioned against reaching conclusions about what caused at least seven blasts on subways and buses, Blair gave a brief televised address where he concluded it was a terrorist action.
“It’s important, however, that those engaged in terrorism realize that our determination to defend our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction to innocent people and a desire to impose extremism on the world,” an emotional Blair told the world.
“Whatever they do, it is our determination that they will never succeed destroying what we hold dear in this country and in other civilizations in the world.”
G-8 leaders later condemned the attacks.
The U.S. State Department said there are no reports yet of Americans hurt in the blasts, but officials cautioned that information is very preliminary and hard to come by with communication outages.
The State Department has set up a task force and call center to deal with concerns of those with relatives and friends in London. The number is 1-888-407-4747.
Unknown Terror Group Claims Responsibility
A previously unknown group, “Secret Group of Al Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe,” claimed responsibility in the name of Al Qaeda for the blasts, saying they were in retaliation for Britain’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The group claimed the attack in a Web site posting and warned Italy and Denmark to withdraw troops from those two countries. Arabic satellite station Al Jazeera also reported that it had received a phone call from the group claiming responsibility.
The claim could not be verified.
A statement from the group was published on a Web site popular with Islamic militants, according to Elaph, a secular Arabic-language news Web site, and Der Spiegel magazine in Berlin, which published the text on their Web sites.
“Rejoice, Islamic nation. Rejoice, Arab world. The time has come for vengeance against the Zionist crusader government of Britain in response to the massacres Britain committed in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said the statement, which was translated by The Associated Press in Cairo. “The heroic mujahedeen carried out a blessed attack in London, and now Britain is burning with fear and terror, from north to south, east to west.”
FBI and Justice Department officials say that it is still too early to determine that the London attacks were the work of Al Qaeda.
One U.S. counterterrorism official emphasized to FOX News that in previous Al Qaeda attacks, such as Sept. 11, 2001, and the embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, there was not an immediate claim of responsibility.
The group making the London terror attack claims has not been heard of before. While many are drawing comparisons to the terrorist bombings on four commuter trains in Madrid on March 11, 2004, that killed 191 people. But the official noted that the Madrid attacks were carried out by a group that was inspired by Al Qaeda and not one in which Usama bin Laden himself ordered the attack.
What is of interest in Thursday’s attacks in London is the extreme coordination, the rush-hour hit for maximum casualties and that the attacks targeted the transit system, counterterrorism officials told FOX News. In London’s case, the sites hit provided opportunity for maximum casualties since some, but not all, of the stations involved were both commuter train and subway hubs.
One Sky News reporter covering Scotland Yard said sources told him there are indications that one bus explosion was caused by a homicide bomber.
“It was chaos,” said Gary Lewis, 32, who was evacuated from a subway train at King’s Cross station. “The one haunting image was someone whose face was totally black and pouring with blood.”
Officials shut down the entire underground network after the explosions. Initial reports blamed a power surge.
The attacks came a day after London was awarded the 2012 Olympics and as the G-8 summit was getting underway in Scotland.
A spokesman for the Olympic committee said it still has full “full confidence” in London as the host of the 2012 Games.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone said: “I want to say one thing, specifically to the world today — 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 … young and old “¦ that isn’t an ideology, it isn’t even a perverted fate, it is an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder.”
“They seek to divide London, they seek Londoners to turn against each other … this city of London is the greatest in the world because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack.”
Livingstone also had words specifically for the terrorists: “I know that you personally do not fear to give your own life in exchange to taking others … but I know you do fear you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society … in the days that follow, look at our airports, look at our seaports and look at our railway stations … you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world, will arrive in London to become Londoners, to fulfill their dream and achieve their potential “¦ whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.”
G-8 Leaders Stand United Against Terrorism
Blair, who was hosting the world’s most powerful industrial leaders at Gleneagles, Scotland, left the G-8 summit to meet with police and other officials but said the rest of the leaders would remain. The G-8 gathering is focusing on climate change and aid for Africa — but Iraq has largely been left off the agenda.
“Each of the countries around that [G-8] table have experience with the effects of terrorism and all of the leaders … share our complete resolution to defeat this terrorism,” Blair said in his address Thursday. “It’s particularly barbaric this has happened on a day when people are meeting to try to help the problems of poverty in Africa, the long-term problems of climate change and the environment.”
The G-8 leaders later issued a statement of their own. Blair, flanked by President George Bush on one side and French President Jacques Chirac on the other, read the statement on a stage full of the other G-8 leaders in a sign of solidarity.
“Those responsible have no respect for human life. We are united in our resolve to confront and defeat this terrorism that is not an attack on one nation but on all nations and on civilized people everywhere. We will not allow violence to change our societies or our values, nor will we allow it to stop the work of this summit,” the statement read.
“The terrorists will not succeed. Today’s bombings will not weaken in any way our resolve to uphold the most deeply held principles of our societies and to defeat those who would impose their fanaticism and extremism on all of us. We shall prevail and they shall not.”
Bush later told reporters that the people of London have America’s “heartfelt condolences” and said he appreciates Blair’s steadfast determination and strength.
“He’ll carry a message of solidarity with him” as he leaves the G-8 summit for London, Bush added. “I was most impressed by the resolve of all the [G-8] leaders in the room and that their resolve is as strong as my resolve. … We will not yield to the terrorists. We will find them; we will bring them to justice.”
Bush said there’s a clear contrast between the work being done at the G-8 summit and the goals of the terrorists responsible, “those who’ve got such evil in their heart that they will take the lives of innocent folks.”
“The War on Terror goes on,” he added.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called the attacks “appalling.”
“I know I speak on behalf of all NATO allies when I express our sympathy for and solidarity with the British people. There can be no justification for such heinous crimes,” he said in a statement. “I condemn in the strongest terms these attacks, which underline the need for the international community and members of the alliance to remain united in the fight against terrorism.”
Jamie Rubin, a former foreign affairs specialist under former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, told FOX News from London that the attack may recreate some of the unity of world leaders that was seen right after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
“For now, some of that sense of solidarity that is in the War on Terror … is restored,” Rubin said. “The political sense of solidarity has been lost a bit and I think, ironically, this tragedy may restore it.”
Blasts Hit Buses, Subway System
Police said incidents were reported at the Aldgate station near the Liverpool Street railway terminal, Edgware Road and King’s Cross in north London, Old Street in the financial district, Russell Square in central London, near the British Museum, Aldgate Station and Leicester Square, which is the equivalent of New York City’s Times Square. A police official also told reporters there was an incident on a bus in Tavistock Place.
The first explosion on a tube train in a tunnel on the east side of London’s financial district occurred at 8:49 a.m. local time. The second blast went off on a train sitting in the Edgware Road station at 9:33 a.m. The third occurred at 9:40 a.m. on a tube train between Russell Square and Kings Cross stations. The fourth blast happened at 9:50 a.m. on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square near Russell Square in central London. A witness said the entire top deck of the bus was destroyed.
Bradley Anderson, a subway passenger, told Sky News that “there was some kind of explosion or something” as his train reached the Edgware Road station in northeast London.
“Everything went black and we collided into some kind of oncoming train,” Anderson said.
Simon Corvett, 26, who was on an eastbound train from Edgware Road station, said: “All of the sudden there was this massive, huge bang.”
“It was absolutely deafening and all the windows shattered,” he said. “There were just loads of people screaming and the carriages filled with smoke.
“You could see the carriage opposite was completely gutted,” he said. “There were some people in real trouble.”
Jay Kumar, a business owner near the site of the blast that destroyed the bus, said he ran out of his shop when he heard a loud explosion. He said the top deck of the bus had collapsed, sending people tumbling to the floor.
Many appeared badly injured, and bloodied people ran from the scene.
“A big blast, a big bomb,” he told The Associated Press. “People were running this way panicked. They knew it was a bomb. Debris flying all over, mostly glass.”
“I was on the bus in front and heard an incredible bang, I turned round and half the double-decker bus was in the air,” Belinda Seabrook told Press Association, the British news agency.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke (search), Britain’s top law enforcement officer, said there were “terrible injuries.”
Clarke, in a later address before English lawmakers, said above-ground train service is subject to “substantial delays,” but airports are operating normally.
“People are strongly advised not to travel into central London as the emergency services must be allowed to work as effectively as they can,” Clarke said, adding that there were three explosions in the subway and one on a bus.
Pope Benedict XVI deplored the “terrorist attacks,” calling them “barbaric acts against humanity,” and said he was praying for the families of the victims.
Americans Urged to be Vigilant
Secret Service spokesman Tom Mazur said that Bush’s presence had agents monitoring the situation in London, but that the investigation was being left to British authorities.
U.S. officials said they had no intelligence that suggests similar attacks are planned for the United States; there are no plans currently to raise the terror alert system. There also are no plans now for the president to return to Washington.
The Homeland Security Department asked authorities in major cities as well as passengers for “continued vigilance” for any suspicious activities, particularly in the transportation systems. The U.S. Capitol tightened up security there.
Bomb-sniffing dogs and armed police officers were sent to patrol Washington’s subways and buses Thursday. About 1.2 million people a day ride Washington’s buses and trains.
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official said recent intelligence indicated that London was considered a prime target for Islamic extremists in part because Al Qaeda was having difficulty getting people into the United States.
“We have been closely monitoring the bombings in London. Our sympathies and condolences go to the victims of this incident and the people of London,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement.
“We do not have any specific intelligence indicating this type of attack is planned in the U.S. but we are constantly evaluating both intelligence and protective measures and will take whatever actions are necessary. We will continue to work closely with British officials as they investigate this incident.”