In just under a month’s time – July 7th to be precise – many Londoners will have cause to stop, think and remember that terrible summers day five years ago when four suicide bombers struck at the heart of the capitals transport network. Fifty two people were killed, seven hundred were injured, and all four of the bombers managed to blow themselves up in the process, as was their wicked intent. Their bombs had been homemade, and packed into rucksacks, arranged to go off at points in the Underground network that not only would converge on Kings Cross Station, but in formation be in the shape of a Cross.
Picture the scene. It is rush hour on London’s Underground Network. Double Decker red buses are plying their routes around the main city arteries. At 8.50am this is the busiest time, with most office commuters intending to be behind their desks in the next half hour. Which is precisely when three bombs exploded within fifty seconds of each other on crowded underground trains. A fourth went off almost an hour later, blowing the top of a bus in Tavistock Square, the early pictures of carnage a seeming hideous re-run from the IRA bomb attacks that wracked some of mainland Britain’s cities during the height of the ‘Troubles’. The bus bomb, it later transpired, had not gone off as planned on the Underground.
Early pictures also showed commuters struggling from underground stations, many had walked down darkened tunnels, some even filming these hellish scenes from their mobile phones as they inched their way along the tracks. This was the first ever suicide attack on a Western capital, and it wasn’t to be the last either.
Ten miles down the road from where I am sitting now is the Buckinghamshire town of Aylesbury. It is a fairly unremarkable place, although it is the county town. The planners managed to wreck much of it during the 1960s and 1970, with their most monstrous carbuncle of all, a multi-storey car park linked to a hideous stump of a Tower block, which was the setting for Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Clockwork Orange’. What’s left of the old town huddles round a picturesque church, and over to the east of the town is an area of Victorian terraced housing, which for three or four generations has been home to the towns Pakistani Muslim population. Historically, there has been little in the way of racial or religious intolerance between the natives and the newer immigrants, so when it was revealed that one of the Muslim suicide bombers came from this part of town the sense of shock amongst all of the communities was palpable. Germaine Lindsay was a Muslim, but he was a convert who didn’t have any links to Pakistan, but came originally from Jamaica.
Each of the bombers were ‘cleanskins’; they were unknown to the authorities, whose vigilance had succeeded in penetrating and breaking other fanatical groups bent on terror. And while speculation swirled around the involvement of Al-Qaida, the truth was rather more pedestrian. There were links to an Islamist cell in the town of Luton, not all that far from Aylesbury where all four had taken the train from to reach London. But all four did have something in common; they all subscribed to nihilist death cult, which they claimed for Islam. They all believed and argued in collective punishment for the crimes they argued were being committed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the West.
The civilian victims of the 7/7 attacks will be remembered by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who will doubtless express a widespread and heartfelt view of the stoicism of ordinary Londoners at that time. And while the collateral damage felt by many British Muslims who utterly abhorred the attacks is a lasting mistrust by many towards their faith, there has never been a backlash, never an attempt to curtail religious and social observances. The Mosque Minarets still stand tall, and women are not banned from wearing the hijab. Most Britons understood then, as they do know that the 7/7 bombers did not represent Muslims in any shape or form.
And yet the fear still lurks that attacks such as this, could happen again. Indeed, just days later on July 21st, there was another attempt to blow up civilians which mercifully failed when all of the incendiary devices failed to go off. The only casualty that time was an individual who suffered an asthma attack.
Older Londoners recall that IRA bomb attacks usually came with a phoned warning in advance, but that the suicide attackers hit without any warnings. For others in foreign capitals the 7.7 attacks confirmed what they had argued for some time, that ‘Londonistan’ had become a ‘safe haven’ for all too many Islamist groups whose intent was violence.
Could a 7/7 happen again? Well of course it could, and at anytime.