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London's transit system comes under attack again

LONDON—Four bombs that exploded relatively harmlessly aboard subway trains and a bus here Thursday were intended to cause much larger blasts, British police said, and may prove critical in the investigation of the explosions that killed at least 56 people two weeks ago.

London Metropolitan Police chief Sir Ian Blair said he was not yet willing to link the two sets of explosions, but noted that the attacks were eerily similar—three subway trains and a double-decker bus targeted by four bombs set to go off nearly simultaneously.

"There is clear resonance here, isn't there?" he said.

One important difference—the failure of Thursday's bombs to cause massive destruction—could prove critical. Not only did police recover unexploded materials at the sites of Thursday's explosions, but witnesses also saw at least some of the suspected bombers fleeing the scene as chaos set in.

"We do believe that this may represent a significant breakthrough in the sense that there is obviously forensic material at these scenes which may be very helpful to us," Blair said. "So I feel very positive about some of these developments."

There was no claim of responsibility for Thursday's explosions, which struck during the lunch hour and did limited damage. Only one person was reported injured, though later reports attributed the injuries to an asthma attack.

Police offered no details of why the bombs didn't fully detonate.

But the explosions—aboard subway trains near the Oval, Warren Street and Shepherd's Bush stations, and on a No. 26 bus near Hackney—produced panicked scenes as passengers pushed through doors from one subway car to the next or dashed from subway platforms to the street.

Hours later, at least six subway stations remained closed and residents near the Shepherd's Bush subway station were being kept from their homes by a police cordon.

"I don't see any end to it at the moment unless the way of the world changes," said Tony Eacus, 45, who couldn't get home because of the investigation.

Two weeks ago, Eacus had walked two hours to get home from work after the July 7 explosions closed the subway system. Thursday's explosions, he said, filled him with a "general feeling of helplessness."

"I just said `Not again,'" he recalled.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair denounced the attacks at a news conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister John Howard. He urged Londoners to stay calm and carry on as normal, and hundreds of commuters seemed to do just that, crowding trains as many riders read evening newspaper accounts of the bombings.

"On public transportation like this there's a limited amount you can do," said Gary Leybourn, 27, a customer service assistant for the London underground. "You can't put sniffer dogs at every station and check bags at every station.

"It doesn't obviously make us feel very safe in our jobs," he added. "But then again it can happen anywhere."

Some experts also were dismayed by the fact that four bombs had made it aboard London mass transit so soon after the July 7 bombings.

"Brings home a rather brutal reality," said Paul Cornish, who heads the international security program for the British research center Chatham House.

"London may be the new Jerusalem, a city where suicide bombings are simply a part of everyday life. The fact is, this shows that there really is nothing the government, the police, can do to stop these attacks in an open society."

London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who rides the subway to and from work, urged citizens not to let a second attack scare them away from their normal lives. He reminded them of previous bombing campaigns of the Irish Republican Army.

"Those people whose memories stretch back into the terrorist campaigns in the ྂs and ྌs and early ྖs will remember there were very often horrifying bombings in London often only weeks apart," he said. "We got through that, and we will get through this."

But the mayor said there was little more that could be done to increase security dramatically on the subway system. Airport style security checks were impractical for the 3 million people who use the London Underground daily, he said.

Britain's Press Association news agency reported detectives were working on the belief that the bombs were not properly primed—which could help explain the limited damage.

Police chief Blair called the blasts "attempts ... to set off explosive devices."

He added that forensics and bomb experts would take their time with studying the scenes and the unexploded bombs.

"Clearly the intention must have been to kill," he said. "I mean, you don't do this with any other intention. And I think the important point is that the intention of the terrorists has not been fulfilled."

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent Potts reported from London; Schofield from Berlin.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): LONDON-ATTACKS

GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050721 ATTACKS compare, 20050721 ATTACKS chrono

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