Terror comes to London: More than 50 died in worst attack since Second World War

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The Independent Online

Heading from Kensington to his offices in east London, Mr Henning watched as fellow passengers on the packed Circle Line train scanned newspapers full of good news for once, proclaiming victory in the battle for the 2012 Games.

"London's Triumph," proclaimed one headline. "Gold Rush," said another. There may have been a light drizzle as Londoners made their usual trek into work. But that did not matter: London was on a roll, and the hangover felt good.

Then, it began. Tube trains ground to a halt all over London. Drivers announced over on-board tannoys that a "power surge" on the track had closed down the network.

Mobile phones started buzzing with startling rumours: that there were explosions across the city. Aldgate, Kings Cross, Edgware Road - all were said to have been at the centre of "incidents". Then word swept the city by phone and email that a bus had exploded in central London.

Before the rush hour was over, any dreams of Olympic glory had been long forgotten. Terrorists had struck, creating a nightmare as three co-ordinated bomb attacks hit London's claustrophobic and crowded peak hour underground trains; two of which were in tunnels, causing dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries. A fourth bomb - the possibility remained last night it was a suicide bomber - exploded on a crowded bus, leading to more deaths and injuries.

By last night, 37 people were confirmed dead. More than 700 had been injured, some terribly.

Fate saved Mr Henning, 39, a Lloyds banker, who missed his usual train. When he tried to get into one carriage of another, he was forced out by the sheer weight of numbers, and moved to the next one.

At 8.51 am, the carriage he had tried to enter exploded. "There was a flash of light and everything went black," Mr Henning said. You couldn't see; you could just hear shouting and screaming. We managed to find a way out. What we left behind was absolute carnage."

It was the first successful bomb attack on the Underground in its 142-year history. Two more blasts on the Tube were to follow in the next 26 minutes. Then, as commuters reeled from one of the explosions looked for other ways to get to work, a packed bus exploded.

There had been no intelligence indicating an attack was imminent. Nor was there any warning. Police were last night investigating whether it was the first time a suicide bomber had operated on British soil - and there were warnings that the current crisis may not yet be over.

The entire system, the world's largest and oldest underground network, was shut down yesterday morning and remained closed last night, as rescue workers continued to toil in the carriages mangled by the explosions, attempting to retrieve the remaining bodies.

It quickly became apparent yesterday morning that al-Qa'ida - or those acting in its name - had finally decided, as many had predicted it would, to attack London at its most vulnerable point. A claim of responsibility was made on the Al-Qal'ah - The Fortress - internet site, by a previously unheard of group calling themselves the Secret Organisation Group of al-Qa'ida of Jihad Organisation in Europe.

Although police and emergency services responded quickly with a carefully prepared major incident plan, the attacks occurred only a few weeks after the security level in the capital had been downgraded to one of the lowest levels since the 2001 attacks in the USA. Questions were being asked about how such an attack could have occurred when the G8 meeting was taking place, when police and security services might have been expected to be on maximum alert.

The London attacks are likely to lead to demands for tougher anti-terrorism laws - particularly the introduction of identity cards. They left Muslim leaders, who condemned the bombings, deeply anxious as to the affect on their communities relations with the rest of Britain.

In Gleneagles, a distraught-looking Tony Blair insisted the GB meeting would continue: "It is important .... that those engaged in terrorism realise 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 in a desire impose extremism on the world. 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."

His words were echoed shortly afterwards by George Bush: "It's a war on terror for us all." He added: "We will not yield to these people - we will not yield to the terrorists".

The attack on London began, like those on New York in September 2001 and in Madrid in March 2004, just before 9am. At 8.51, a Circle Line train heading into Liverpool Street station, the huge complex which acts as the confluence for a number of underground lines as well as overground lines from north and east London, carrying commuters in and out of the City, was rocked by a huge explosion.

Terry O'Shea, 42, a construction worker from Worcester, said: "I was in the third carriage, the one behind the one where the explosion was. There was a loud bang and we felt the train shudder. Then smoke started coming into the compartment. It was terrible. People were panicking, but they calmed down after one or two minutes. As they led us down the track past the carriage where the explosion was, we could see the roof was torn off it, and there were bodies on the track."

Jack Linton, 14, from Hawkswell, Essex, who suffered cuts to his face, said: "There was a massive explosion, smoke and flames. My carriage must have been two away from where it was. Everybody got on the floor. Then eventually the smoke cleared and we managed to open the central doors down the train to go to the back of it before they walked us along the track past the train to the station. The middle of the train was blown out and there were people on the track. I've got glass in my hair and my pockets and my ear hurts."

Many people were trapped for up to 40 minutes. Sarah Reid, 23, a student doing work experience, was on the carriage next door to the one struck by the explosion. "I was on the train and there was a fire outside the carriage window and then there was a sudden jolt which shook us forward. The explosion was behind me. Some people took charge. We went out of the back of the carriage." Describing being led away from the scene, she said: "A carriage was split in two, all jagged, and without a roof, just open. I saw bodies, I think." Seven people are believed to have died on that train.

Within a few minutes, at 8.56, the underground was rocked by a second blast, a few miles to the north-west, where the southbound Piccadilly Line sweeps in from north London.

Underneath the elegant streets of Bloomsbury, between Kings Cross and Russell Square stations, another bomb exploded; it is believed that at least 21 people died. Reaching this deep-lying tube line became a much more difficult task for the rescue workers than at Liverpool Street, where the older Circle and Metropolitan lines were built much closer to the surface. Passengers were trapped from more than two hours.

While the emergency services were rushing towards both scenes, there was a third explosion, at 9.17am and several miles to the west, at Edgware Road station, this time on another Circle Line train heading west. The explosion ripped through a wall in the tunnel and blew a hole in a train on another rail track. Seven died in this explosion.

Simon Corvett, 26, from Oxford, was on the eastbound train. He said: " All of sudden there was this massive huge bang. It was absolutely deafening and all the windows shattered. The glass did not actually fall out of the windows, it just cracked. The train came to a grinding halt, everyone fell off their seats.

"There were just loads of people screaming and the carriages filled with smoke, You couldn't really breathe and you couldn't see what was happening. The driver came on the tannoy and said 'We have got a problem, don't panic'."

Mr Corvett, joined other passengers to force open the train doors with a fire extinguisher. Dozens of them escaped down the tunnel. His face covered in soot, he said the carriage on the other track was destroyed. "You could see the carriage opposite was completely gutted. There were some people in real trouble."

By now, the underground network was rapidly grinding to a halt as trains were halted and backed up in stations. Fear, panic and confusion began to spread through the system as survivors staggered out of stations to be met by scores of ambulance and fire workers.

Just after 9.30am Transport for London took the decision to close the system, evacuating scores of stations. Still not sure of what had occurred, senior Scotland Yard police officers were still working on the assumption that some kind of catastrophic power surge was to blame.

What happened next changed all that. At 9.51, in Tavistock Square, just south of the Euston Road, a number 30 bus travelling from Hackney to Marble Arch, which had been boarded by a number of people who had been evacuated from the underground, was ripped apart by a huge explosion. Last night, it remained unclear exactly how many people had died, but the number is believed to be in double figures.

Eyewitnesses spoke of seeing bodies being flung out of the upper deck. Ayobami Bello, 46, a security guard at the nearby London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine, said the blast completely blew the bus apart.

"It was terrible - the bus went to pieces," Mr Bello said. " There were so many bodies on the floor. The back was completely gone. It was blown off completely and a dead body was hanging out and there were dead bodies on the road. It was a horrible thing."

He said other bodies sat slumped in their bus seats, some with arms and legs missing: "I can't believe it. I can't even believe I survived it. There was panic and everyone was running for their lives. I saw a lady coming towards me soaked in blood. Everyone was in confusion."

Cycle courier Andrew Childes, 36, from London, was on his way to the British Medical Association's headquarters in Tavistock Place. He said: "I heard a bang, a thudding deep sound. There was a big cloud of grey smoke. I was about 250 metres away at the time and I stopped dead in my tracks and didn't go any further. I waited for a bit and then went to see what had happened. The bus was just splintered metal, and it was all bent over. The top part of the bus was completely exposed, as if the roof had been ripped off it.

"There was a bit of panic going on, a few screams and shouts, but there wasn't massive panic. The police were already there because of what was happening on the tubes and quickly got things under control.

"I didn't see if anyone was on the bus or if anybody was hurt. Somebody told me they saw the driver running away from the bus but I don't know if that's true."

Some BMA staff came out to treat the injured, and their building was turned into an impromptu casualty station.

As news of the explosions spread, there was panic, transport chaos and confusion across central London and parts of the City. Evacuees from the underground system attempted to board buses to either return home or reach their workplaces, only to find them stuck in traffic and, eventually, they were ordered to stay where they were. Mainline trains into London were halted and the mobile telephone networks collapsed under the pressure of thousands of calls. Some switched to take emergency calls only.

Police and emergency services implemented the major incident plan, putting hospitals throughout the capital on alert and summoning help from adjacent authorities. At the London Hospital on the Mile End Road, just a short distance from Aldgate, more than 100 people were treated and air ambulances lined up to land on its helicopter pad. Fleets of commandeered London buses took dozens of slightly injured people to hospital.

The bombs were condemned by the nation's religious leaders, while many London clergy turned out to help with the rescue operations. Steve Nichols, London Underground chaplain, was counselling the emergency services in St Botolphs Church near Aldgate East station.

He said: "There was one poor lady who had been impaled by one of the poles in the train and she was still alive. The people have been picking up various body parts. It is obviously very grim and there aren't really words to describe it. I guess you could say I've been caring for the carers."

In Gleneagles, Mr Blair, President Bush and the other world leaders were informed by their aides. After his first of three statements of the day, an anguished looking Mr Blair flew by helicopter back to London.

In a televised statement from Downing Street last night he promised intense police and security service action to bring the bombers to justice and he repeated his "profound condolences" to the families of the victims. Mr Blair said: "It is through terrorism that the people that have committed these terrible acts express their values and it is right at this moment that we demonstrate ours.

"I think we all know what they are trying to do. They are trying to use the slaughter of innocent people to cow us, to frighten us out of doing the things that we want to do, trying to stop us from going about our business as normal, as we are entitled to do, and they should not, and they must not succeed.

"When they try to intimidate us, we will not be intimidated. When they seek to change our country or our way of life by these methods, we will not be changed."

Mr Blair later visited Scotland Yard's control room and was expected to return to Gleneagles late last night to continue chairing the summit. The meeting had been chaired by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in his absence.

Mr Blair also chaired a meeting of the Cobra Committee, the Cabinet Office body which oversees such crises; the Committee was convened earlier in the day, chaired by Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary.

Initially, Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police announced that there had been six explosions, but it is believed that this was because of the confusion from the bombs being in the tunnels between Russell Square and Kings Cross and between Liverpool Street and Aldgate. Sir Ian warned the public to "stay where they were."

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, still in Singapore where he had spent the previous night celebrating the success of the London bid, issued a strong condemnation of the attacks.

He said: "I want to say one thing: This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty or the powerful, it is not aimed at presidents or prime ministers, it was aimed at ordinary working-class Londoners. That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith - it's mass murder. We know what the objective is. They seek to divide London."

The London Olympic bid committee remained defiant that the Games would not be affected but said that they were "devastated".

"I'm totally distraught," said Keith Mills, chief executive of London's bid team. "I think it goes to demonstrate that no city in the world can escape terrorism these days. Even London, that has probably the best and most sophisticated security services in the world finds it difficult to deal with these sorts of attacks."

Mr Mills said the London contingent was "completely and utterly devastated ... This is our town, our city, our home," he said. " We're praying for the people who have been affected."

The attacks also had their affect on the City, where the FTSE 100 Index plunged more than 200 points in the immediate aftermath of the explosions - it later recovered some of its poise during the afternoon, to limit the losses to less than 100 points. Shares in hotel operations, airlines and luxury goods were worst affected. Many banks and trading houses were either evacuated or found staff unable to reach their desks. The London Stock Exchange remained open but took action, such as asking traders to switch off certain electronic trading systems to prevent a more volatile response.

Last night, as scores of people were still being treated in hospitals, scores of shows and events across London were cancelled after police asked people not to travel into the West End.

Amid chaos on the roads, with buses operating a limited service and tube lines closed, police and security officials warned that they could not be sure the attacks were finished. Andy Trotter, the deputy chief constable of British Transport Police, said: "This is an extremely challenging time for London and we do not know whether it's over yet."

Michael Henning was one of the lucky ones. After treatment for head and eye injuries at the Royal London Hospital, he left for home, still in shock that he had survived. "It was unbelievable," he said. "I could have been killed I just can't believe what I've gone though today. I'm just so very, very lucky."

'I thought we were all going to die. I was waiting for a fire'

Zeyned Basci escaped from her packed Tube train bloodied and shaken after a blast ripped it apart hundreds of feet underground.

Ms Basci, 21, of Edmonton, who works for Barclays Bank, was on the Piccadilly Line and the train had just pulled out of King's Cross heading for Russell Square when a loud bang sent shards of glass flying. Shaking, she said: "There was blood everywhere; people had been sprayed with glass. One woman was unconscious on the floor. Her face was badly cut and gouged; all you could see was flesh and blood.

"People were screaming and panicking. It was pitch black and then there was smoke. We thought the carriage was going to catch fire. I really thought I was going to burn alive.

"All the lights went out. People crashed into the windows and I saw a lot injured by the flying glass. People started screaming and yelling and going crazy. A man was lying on the floor, writhing in agony with his leg clearly broken.

"Someone got out a torch and we could finally see each other. Everyone was bleeding and I had people's blood all over me. It was pure panic. There was a man next to me who managed to force the door open to let in air. Breathing was difficult because the carriage was filling with smoke."

Ms Basci was in the front carriage and after five minutes the driver opened the door and told people to calm down. She added: "He said everything was OK and he told us to pass the information down the carriage, but people weren't listening; they were just screaming. He opened his door and we all stepped down on to the tracks and everyone was helping each other.

"Looking back, I was so terrified. I thought we were all going to die. I was waiting for a firen. I was sure we were all going to burn down there."

'A lady in the first carriage was screaming and screaming'

Mandy Yu, age 23, was caught in the King's Cross bomb on her way to work in Islington: "At a quarter to nine, 300 metres into the tunnel from King's Cross, there was a shudder from the front of the train.

"Everything went black, then the emergency lights went on. Thick soot from the tracks flooded through the train; it was so difficult to breathe that people were kneeling down in the carriage to try and get some air. A lady in the first carriage was screaming and screaming. People were praying. We passed messages from carriage to carriage for about 20 minutes in the dim light, saying there was no fire and people should try to stay calm. Some people were trying to open the doors and smash the windows to get out, and to let air in, but were unable to. There was a numb panic as people tried to stay calm. We thought perhaps the train had derailed and had crashed into the tunnel. People were fighting the fear that there would be a fire.

"We had been trapped for more than half an hour when we were evacuated through the back of the train. The power on the tracks had been switched off, and we walked through the tunnel.

"There were people in the first carriage too shocked to leave their seats, and policemen and London Underground staff were trying to get to the carriage to help them leave the train.

"One man was obviously injured, with blood coming out of his eye. Another lady had a bloody eye. Other commuters were looking at us in confusion, unaware of what had happened.

"As soon as I got out of the tunnel I started crying, as the shock kicked in."

'It was horrendous, like a disaster movie'

Fiona Trueman, 26, was on a Piccadilly Line train a few minutes south of King's Cross:

"The train before was really busy and I thought of squeezing on to it, but didn't - and now I wish I had.

"It was about three minutes after we left King's Cross, when there was a massive bang and there was smoke and glass everywhere. I was standing near a window, and I've still got some in my hair. The lights went out, and with the smoke, we couldn't breathe, and we sort of cushioned each other during the impact because the compartment was so full.

"It felt like a dream; it was surreal.

"It was just horrendous, it was like a disaster movie. You can't imagine being somewhere like that, you just want to get out.

"It was frightening because all the lights had gone out and we didn't hear anything from the driver, so we wondered how he was.

"Some people were very calm, and were telling everybody not to panic, and after a few minutes we started to get messages that we would be unloaded from the back of the train and walked to safety.

"Overall I feel lucky, and my thoughts go out to the families of anyone who has died."

'We had builders from next door offering to give blood'

Professor Jim Ryan, senior A&E consultant, University College Hospital:

"The injuries are what we would expect from a blast ­ facial, chest, abdominal and limb injuries. People have been penetrated by fragments of bomb blast debris. Some have been penetrated by pieces of the bus, others by pieces of nearby buildings such as glass.

"With some bomb blasts there can be some fragments of the device itself. From what we know, we believe most of the patients brought in here were injured in the bus blast. In the main we think they were commuters although there are some people with accents from around the world.

"One of the features of an explosion, which we know from blasts in Northern Ireland and Israel, is a condition known as blast lung or shock lung, where people sustain a lung injury which leaks over time. They appear fine but they slowly deteriorate. We have people here who were in the bus blast and appear to be well but it is important that we watch them.

"We have had huge numbers of people walking in off the street offering to help. We have even had builders working on the site next door offering to give blood."

Britain's worst terror atrocities

* MARCH 2001: Car bomb at the BBC's headquarters. Police say the Real IRA was behind the blast. One man was wounded.

* AUGUST 1998: The Omagh bombing, a car bomb attack by the Real IRA. Twenty nine were killed. 220 people were injured.

* FEBRUARY 1996: Two people killed by bomb in London's Docklands area.

* MARCH 1993: Bombs in litter bins in Warrington kill two boys.

* APRIL 1992: Car bomb at Baltic Exchange in London's financial district kills three and wounds 91.

* FEBRUARY 1991: The IRA fires mortar bomb at Prime Minister John Major's office. No-one is injured.

* SEPTEMBER 1989: Bomb at Royal Marines Music School in Deal kills 11 and wounds 22.

* DECEMBER 1988: A Boeing 747 crashes on the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 aboard after a bomb on board explodes.

* NOVEMBER 1987: Eleven killed and 63 wounded when the IRA bombs Enniskillen.

* OCTOBER 1984: Margaret Thatcher's cabinet narrowly escapes IRA bomb which kills five in Brighton hotel during Tory party conference.

'Terrorists will never destroy what we hold dear'

The text of Tony Blair's speech on the London explosions at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles:

"I'm just going to make a short statement to you on the terrible events that have happened in London earlier today. And I hope you understand that at present we are still trying to establish exactly what has happened.

It is reasonably clear that there have been a series of terrorist attacks in London.

There are obviously casualties, both people who have died and people who are seriously injured, and our thoughts and prayers, of course, are with the victims and their families.

It is my intention to leave the G8 within the next couple of hours and go down to London and get a report face-to-face with the police and the emergency services and the ministers who have been dealing with this, and return later this evening. It is the will of all the leaders of the G8, however, that the meeting should continue in my absence, that we should continue to discuss the issues we were going to discuss and reach the conclusions that we were going to reach.

Each of the countries round that table have some experience of the effects of terrorism and all the leaders ... share our complete resolution to defeat terrorism.

It is particularly barbaric that this has happened on a day when people are meeting to try to help the problems of poverty in Africa and the long-term problems of climate change and the environment.

Just as it is reasonably clear this is a terrorist attack or a series of terrorist attacks, it is also reasonably clear it is aimed ... to coincide with the opening of the G8. It is important thatthose engaged in terrorism realise our determination to defend our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction to innocent people in a desire to impose extremism on the world.

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. Thank you."