Suicide Bombers Strike London City Transport
By: Tony Blair
Date: July 11, 2005
Source: Speech delivered before British Parliament, available online at <<a href="http://www.number-10.gov.uk" target="_blank">http://www.number-10.gov.uk /output/Page7903.asp>.
About the Author: Leader of the Labour Party since 1994 following the death of John Smith, Tony Blair has been Britain's Prime Minister since 1997. Blair delivered this speech to Parliament in London four days after a series of suicide bombers struck London's Underground (subway) and bus transportation system.
For much of the latter half of the twentieth century, of all the principle western powers, Britain perhaps held the most successful relationship with Arab countries and the Muslim world in general. For the most part, Britain had escaped the sort of postcolonial scars that characterized France and Russia's relationships with its former colonies. Britain also did not garner or excite the same contempt as U.S. intervention in the Middle East attracted. Britain's large native Muslim population was well integrated, and Britain had few of the race relations problems encountered by Germany with its large Turkish population, or France and its large Algerian community. Britain had long been the historical home of opposition clerics in exile, who indicated to intelligence sources that Britain was likely to escape Islamist extremist attacks.
Nevertheless, after September 11, 2001, British support for the United States and its War on Terror led many to suspect that Britain had become an increasingly likely target for Islamist terrorist attacks.
Reading between the lines of Al Qaeda's 1998 manifesto, it was perhaps surprising that Britain hadn't already suffered at the hands of its operatives. Osama Bin Laden's key demandshe removal of foreign troops from Saudi Arabia; the ending of sanctions against Iraq; and support of Israelll implicated Britain to varying degrees.
During the twentieth century, with the exception of the anti-colonial movement in British Palestine and the Suez Crisis of 1956, Britain had largely avoided controversy in the Middle East. Britain had built close ties to a number of Arab regimes, was measured in its support of Israel, and tried to avoid controversial military intervention, such as the U.S. peacekeeping presence in Lebanon. For decades, simmering anti-Western sentiment in the region did not seem to afflict Britain in the same way as it did the United States.
In the months and years following the 9/11 attacks, however, British foreign policy in the Middle East began to more closely follow that of the United States. This shift in Mid-East policy was often controversial, both domestically and across the Middle East. Then, in November 2003, a bomb attack on the British consulate in Istanbul, killing 27 people, made explicitly clear the possible threat facing British interests. Domestically, British security officials remained vigilant about potential attacks.
Sometimes they were accused of scare mongering. A high profile military presence at Heathrow airport in February 2003, for instance, which included tanks and armed soldiers was deemed an overreaction. Likewise, a highly publicized evacuation exercise, simulating a chemical weapons attack, at Bank tube station in the City of London was similarly derided.
The British government and police chiefs were nevertheless unrepentant and said that it was "inevitable" that Britain would be the subject of an Islamist terrorist attack. They also hinted that they had prevented earlier attacks.
On the morning of July 7, 2005, reports that London's Underground train system had broken down because of a power surge quickly led to a more complex emergency. Unconfirmed reports that three buses had exploded soon led to the realization that a terror attack had taken place. TV news broadcast images of a London double-decker bus with the roof ripped off.
By mid-afternoon, police had confirmed that four suicide bomb attacks had taken place: three on the London Underground; and one on a bus at Tavistock Square. Because of the nature of the attack, officials were unable to confirm a figure of dead for some days, but this was put at fifty-two (including the suicide bombers who had carried out the attacks) and eventually rose by another four, after victims died of their injuries in hospital.
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last Thursday's terrorist attacks in London. The number of confirmed dead currently stands at 52; the number still in hospital 56, some severely injured.
The whole House, I know, will want to state our feelings strongly. We express our revulsion at this murderous carnage of the innocent. We send our deep and abiding sympathy and prayers to the victims and their families. We are united in our determination that our country will not be defeated by such terror but will defeat it and emerge from this horror with our values, our way of life, our tolerance and respect for others, undiminished.
I would also like us to record our heartfelt thanks and admiration for our emergency services. Police, those working on our underground, buses and trains, paramedics, doctors and nurses, ambulance staff, firefighters and the disaster recover teams, all of them can be truly proud of the part they played in coming to the aid of London last Thursday and the part they continue to play. They are magnificent.
As for Londoners themselves, their stoicism, resilience, and sheer undaunted spirit were an inspiration and an example. At the moment of terror striking, when the eyes of the world were upon them, they responded and continue to respond with a defiance and a strength that are universally admired.
I will now try to give the House as much information as I can. Some of it is already well-known. There were four explosions. Three took place on underground trainsne between Aldgate East and Liverpool Street; one between Russell Square and Kings Cross; one in a train at Edgware Road station. All of these took place within 50 seconds of each other at 8.50 A.M.
The other explosion was on the No.30 bus at Upper Woburn Place at 9.47 A.M.
The timing of the Tube explosions was designed to be at the peak of the rush hour and thus to cause maximum death and injury.
It seems probable that the attack was carried out by Islamist extremist terrorists, of the kind who over recent years have been responsible for so many innocent deaths in Madrid, Bali, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, Yemen, Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, of course in New York on September 11th, but in many other countries too.
I cannot obviously give details of the police investigation now underway. I can say it is among the most vigorous and intensive this country has seen. We will pursue those responsible not just the perpetrators but the planners of this outrage, wherever they are and we will not rest until they are identified, and as far as is humanly possible, brought to justice.
I would also like to say this about our police and intelligence services. I know of no intelligence specific enough to have allowed them to prevent last Thursday's attacks. By their very nature, people callous enough to kill completely innocent civilians in this way, are hard to stop. But our services and police do a heroic job for our country day in day out and I can say that over the past years, as this particular type of new and awful terrorist threat has grown, they have done their utmost to keep this country and its people safe. As I saw again from the meeting of COBR this morning, their determination to get those responsible is total.
Besides the obvious imperative of tracking down those who carried out these acts of terrorism, our principal concern is the bereaved, the families of the victims. It is the most extraordinarily distressing time for them and all of us feel profoundly for them. Let me explain what we are trying to do.
The majority, though I stress not all, of the victims' families now have a very clear idea that they have lost their loved ones. For many, patterns of life and behaviour are well enough established that the numbers of potential victims can now be brought within reasonable range of the actual victims. Some 74 families now have police Family Liaison Officers with them. In addition, we have established, with Westminster City Council, the police and others the Family Assistance Centre. This is presently at The Queen Mother Sports Centre. Tomorrow it will move to a more suitable site at the Royal Horticultural Halls in Westminster. I would like to thank the many organisations involved including the Salvation Army, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, the Red Cross, Westminster City Council and all those counsellors who are helping to staff the centre.
In this way we are doing our level best to look after the families. My RHFhe Culture Secretaryas taken charge of this aspect as she has done before.
More difficult is then the process of formal identification. The police are proceeding here with some caution. In previous terrorist attacks of a similar kind in other countries, mistakes have been made which are incredibly distressing. The effect of a bomb is to make identification sometimes very, very hard and harrowing. There is now a process in place, involving a group chaired by the Coroner which will, in each case, make a definitive pronouncement once the right procedures are gone through. I wish it could be quicker but I think the only wise course is to follow precisely the advice of Coroner and police and that is what we will do.
At some time and in consultation with the families, we will be ready to join in arrangements for a Memorial Service for the victims. Her Majesty The Queen has said she will attend. Two minutes silence will be held at noon on Thursday. This will be an opportunity for the nation to unite in remembrance.
There is then the issue of further anti-terrorist legislation. During the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act earlier this year we pledged to introduce a further counter-terrorism Bill later in this session. That remains our intention. It will give us an opportunity, in close consultation with the police and the agencies, to see whether there are additional powers which they might need to prevent further attacks.
As to timing, my Rt. Hon Friend, the Home Secretary, pledged to publish the Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny in the autumn with introduction in spring 2006, so that Parliament had time to digest the report on the operation of control orders produced by the independent reviewer, Lord Carlile. I do not currently see any reason to depart from that timetable.
However, that is subject to an important caveat. If, as the fuller picture about these incidents emerges and the investigation proceeds, it becomes clear that there are powers which the police and intelligence agencies need immediately to combat terrorism, it is plainly sensible to reserve the right to return to Parliament with an accelerated timetable.
Finally, I would like to record our deep appreciation of the huge outpouring of international support for London and for Britain over these past days. The G8 leaders demonstrated complete solidarity and also commented with an awe that gave me a lot of pride in Britain, on the courage of our capital city and its people.
The UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution of condemnation of the terrorists and support for Britain.
The IOC kindly sent a resolution of support.
Messages have been received world-wide. There have been immediate offers of help from all the world's main intelligence agencies. An emergency meeting of the EU JHA Council will take place later this week.
Mr Speaker, the 7th of July will always be remembered as a day of terrible sadness for our country and for London. Yet it is true that just four days later, London's buses, trains and as much of its underground as is possible, are back on normal schedules; its businesses, shops and schools are open; its millions of people are coming to work with a steely determination that is genuinely remarkable.
Yesterday we celebrated the heroism of World War II including the civilian heroes of London's blitz. Today what a different city London is city of many cultures, faiths and races, hardly recognisable from the London of 1945. So different and yet, in the face of this attack, there is something wonderfully familiar in the confident spirit which moves through the city, enabling it to take the blow, but still not flinch from re-asserting its will to triumph over adversity. Britain may be different today, but the coming together is the same.
And I say to our Muslim community. People know full well that the overwhelming majority of Muslims stand four square with every other community in Britain. We were proud of your contribution to Britain before last Thursday. We remain proud of it today. Fanaticism is not a state of religion but a state of mind. We will work with you to make the moderate and true voice of Islam heard as it should be.
Together, we will ensure that though terrorists can kill, they will never destroy the way of life we share and which we value, and which we will defend with the strength of belief and conviction so that it is to us and not to the terrorists, that victory will belong.
The government of the United Kingdom remained adamant in its position that the war in Iraq was justified and used the bombing to rally the population behind its support of it actions against terrorists.
Many Britons, however, remained unconvinced, assuming that because of Blair's unconditional support of American intervention in Iraq and elsewhere, Britain had been the subject of an apparent Islamist terror attack. Blair counter-argued that 9/11 and the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa had occurred long before the invasion of Iraq; although at the same time he failed to acknowledge that the attacks in Africa were on American, not British, interests.
One of the most surprising elements of the attacks was the fact that they were carried out by British-born Muslims, mostly from mainstream and middle-class families. Amongst Britain's two million Muslims, it prompted a quick reflection and reaction. What had prompted these men to carry out the attacks? How had their militancy gone unchecked? Their communities, and even some of their families, were quick to denounce the suicide bomb attacks. In response, Britain's Muslim community began new efforts to steer Moslem youths away from Islamist activity.
A clear link with al-Qaeda was made apparent less than two weeks after the bombings. Police in Pakistan arrested a man who they claimed was the British al-Qaeda leader, Haroon Rashid Aswat, who had come from the same west Yorkshire town as one of the bombers and had apparently spoken to the suicide team on his mobile phone a few hours before the four men blew themselves up.
The specter of a large-scale al-Qaeda campaign against British targets raised itself a fortnight after the attacks on London's transport system. Four men, in a repeat of the earlier attack, attempted to set off bombs on London's transport system: three on the tube; one on a bus. This time, however, only the detonators exploded, and, leaving what appeared to be similar devices behind, all four men escaped from their targets and disappeared into the city. Police garnered key forensic evidence from the intended bomb sites that they anticipate (as of mid-July 2005) could lead them to perpetrators further up the organizational chain.
Burke, Jason. Al-Qa'eda: The Story of Radical Islam. New York: Penguin, 2004.
BBC News. "The London Bombs and the Iraq Connection." July 18, 2005. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4693437.stm> (accessed July 18, 2005).
BBC News. "Suicide Bombers' 'Ordinary' Lives." July 18, 2005. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4678837.stm> (accessed July 18, 2005).