4 Explosions Hit London's Bus and Underground Train Network

One person hurt; three tube stations evacuated; bomb explodes on bus; police hunting several fugitives.

Haaretz Staff
Agencies
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Haaretz Staff
Agencies

LONDON - Four small coordinated explosions hit London's bus and underground train network on Thursday, injuring one person, exactly 2 weeks after bombers killed more than 50 people in the British capital.

Part of the underground network was shut, but police said the emergency was not as serious as 2 weeks ago as it became clear that the attacks had either failed altogether or lacked the lethal sophistication of the July 7 bombs.

Prime Minister Tony Blair called for calm.

London police chief Ian Blair told reporters: "We know that we've had four explosions or attempts at explosions. It is still pretty unclear what's happened ... The bombs appear to be smaller than the last occasion."

He said some devices appeared not to have gone off properly and only one person had been reported injured.

"Suddenly the door between my carriage and the next one burst open and dozens of people started rushing through and some were falling and there was clearly mass panic," said a witness called Ivan at Warren Street underground station.

"An Italian young man ... said a man was carrying a rucksack (that) suddenly exploded, a minor explosion but enough to blow open the rucksack, and the man then made an exclamation as if something had gone wrong and ... everyone rushed off the carriage."

Police sources said they were hunting several fugitives, according to BBC television.

The prime minister told a news conference: "We know why these things are done. They are done to scare people ... We've got to react calmly."

The emergency, at around 1 P.M. (1200 GMT), coincided with a memorial service for victims of the attacks of July 7.

Then, four young British Muslims detonated bombs in three underground trains and a bus at morning rush hour, killing more than 50 people and shocking a capital hitherto spared Al-Qaida-style attacks on civilians.

Those bombings confronted Britain's people and politicians with the prospect that the country could be nurturing its own generation of the type of Islamist militants, loyal to Osama bin Laden, who had already inflicted carnage in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, in Bali and on Madrid trains last year.

The attacks have forced Blair to defend himself against accusations that Britain's participation in the U.S. invasion of Iraq has made it a target for Islamic militants.

A poll published on Tuesday indicated that two-thirds of Britons think the July 7 bombings were linked to Iraq.

Blair denied his policy had put London at risk, saying: "The terrorist attacks go back over 10 years ... The people who are responsible for terrorist attacks are the terrorists."

All four bombers died in the July 7 attacks, leading most people to assume they had been suicide bombers.

British shares and the pound fell on Thursday, but recovered once it was clear the attacks were less serious than two weeks ago.

Their failure suggested they might not have been the work of the organizers of July 7, whose bombs all exploded lethally.

"This is most probably the work of a copycat group of young, disaffected Muslims who were inspired by the events of July 7 to carry out an operation of their own," said Navin Reddy, risk analyst at Merchant International Group in London.

"What this does is highlight the increased risk of 'franchise terrorism' in the UK, where loosely linked splinter cells act in an uncoordinated fashion around a common cause."

The July 7 bombs, which were claimed on the Internet by a little-known Islamic militant group, coincided with a summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations in Scotland.

Although markets rebounded from the latest shock, nervousness was growing about the prospect of more attacks.

"The security issues have just got 500 percent greater," said Jeremy Hodges, head of foreign exchange sales at Lloyds TSB bank. "It will reflect badly on the economy, on tourism, and you have got to suggest that we are going to cut (interest) rates."

Blair chaired the government's emergency civil contingencies committee during the afternoon.

Pakistani security forces have arrested a British Muslim, Haroon Rashid Aswad, believed to be linked to the July 7 bombings, according to Pakistani intelligence sources.

Emergency services rushed to three stations around central London and the site of a blast on a bus in the east of the city.

Passengers on at least two trains told of small explosions - which police said might have been detonators going off but failing to trigger a bomb - and of would-be bombers fleeing.

One witness named Andrea who was on a train travelling through Oval station in south London told BBC television:

"It sounded like a balloon had popped but a lot louder and then we all moved to one end of the carriage. There was something on the floor and you could see something had exploded.

"They opened the door so we could move through to the next carriage and there was a guy still standing in the carriage.

"And then we pulled into Oval, we all got off on the platform and the guy just ran and started running up the escalator.

"Everyone was screaming for someone to stop him. He ran past me and I kind of stood in one of the alcoves and he ran out of the station. In fact, he left a bag on the train."

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