- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

LONDON — Britain fell silent yesterday on the first anniversary of the suicide bombing assault on London’s transit system — a stunning attack that killed 52 commuters and wounded more than 700 in the country’s deadliest attack since World War II.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, survivors and city workers bowed their heads during two minutes of national silence observed from the Wimbledon tennis tournament in London’s suburbs to Scotland, a pause punctuated by the solemn tolling of bells at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of London.

Mourners carried flowers and candles to makeshift shrines near the sites of the four bomb blasts. Reflecting the widespread feeling of unease that grips London, one person left a small note that read: “We will never forget.”

“This is a time when our country unites across all races, religions and divides and stands in solidarity with all those who have suffered so much, in sympathy with them and in defense of the values which we share,” Mr. Blair said at Fire Brigade headquarters.

Relatives of the dead gathered later for a tearful private ceremony at Regent’s Park, some reading poems to honor their loved ones. Names of all the victims were read one by one as many in the crowd wept and people lined up to place yellow flowers in a mosaic memorial.

Britain had not seen a major terror strike since 1974, when the Irish Republican Army set off bombs outside two pubs in Birmingham, killing 21 persons.

The September 11 terror strikes on U.S. soil ushered in a new era of terrorism in the West: The 2004 Madrid train bombings, the slaying of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by an Islamic radical, the carnage in the heart of the British capital.

The terrorism has led many to wonder whether, in the post-Cold War era, the world is gripped by another clash of civilizations — one in which the values of Western liberal democracies are in irreconcilable conflict with those of militant Islam, whose adherents are growing in numbers across Europe.

For Londoners, the attacks have shaken — but not entirely overturned — a conviction that the two cultures can coincide peacefully in the vibrant multicultural capital that is their home.

Still, the background of the bombers came as a shock to Britons: The four bombers were all British citizens raised in northern England. Three were of Pakistani descent and the other was a Jamaica-born convert to Islam.

In a video posted on the Internet for yesterday’s anniversary, al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, boasted that two of the subway bombers had trained for their suicide mission.

British authorities previously said they knew Shehzad Tanweer and Mohammad Sidique Khan had visited Pakistan, but the comment from al-Zawahri was the first claiming they had been taught by al Qaeda.

“Both of them were seeking martyrdom and wished that they could carry out a martyrdom operation,” al-Zawahri said, using the Islamist euphemism for a suicide attack.

“Today is a very sad day,” said Paul Dadge, a computer technician who was pictured in newspapers around the world leading a bandaged survivor from the wreckage last year. “It is also a day to mark those people who lost loved ones and the survivors.”

Residents woke to the sound of police helicopters hovering over the city yesterday as some Londoners made a determined effort to continue their daily routine.

But at the same time, a sense of mourning descended on the city — as well as apprehension at the knowledge that any repeat attacks had the potential to devastate the precarious security that the affluent, cosmopolitan city has regained.

Buses and subway cars were standing-room only during the morning rush hour. But the atmosphere on the Underground, as the subway is called, was tense and subdued as the city was reminded of the 52 persons who never made it to their destinations last July 7.

Memorial plaques were unveiled at each of the three Underground stations affected by the attacks.

Flowers also were laid at Aldgate station, the site of the first blast, when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at 8:50 a.m., killing seven persons. Candles were lit at the Edgware Road where a bomb exploded minutes later, killing six, and between Russell Square and King’s Cross where a third bomb killed 26.

One of the most striking images of the July 7 attacks was the fourth blast that killed 13 persons and ripped apart a No. 30 bus near Tavistock Square.

The bus driver, who survived, laid a large wreath of pink and white carnations, roses and lilies. On the card, he wrote: “You will never be forgotten. May you rest in peace. George Psaradakis. No. 30 bus driver.”

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