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U.K.: Day After Bombing, Londoners Show Stoical Side

One day after four bombs killed more than 50 people in London and injured hundreds more, the people of Britain’s capital are trying to return to life as normal. The transport system, which yesterday was thrown into chaos by the bombings, is mostly up and running again, although the stations directly affected by the explosions are still closed as forensic experts comb through the debris for clues as to the bombers origins.

London, 8 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The headlines in Britain’s papers today provided poignant testimony to the sudden and tragic turnaround in London’s fortunes.

Just 24 hours before, they carried banners of triumph as Britain celebrated winning the right to host the 2012 Olympics.

Today the headlines are cataclysmic.

“London’s day of terror,” cried "The Guardian," against a picture of a bus burst apart by the fourth of yesterday’s murderous bombs.

“Al-Qaeda brings terror to the heart of London”, claimed the right-wing “Daily Telegraph”, which shared the almost universal conviction that this was the work of the extremist Islamic organization.

Some of the tabloids were more direct. “Bastards!” screamed “The Star”.

After the shock of the worst day of violence in the British capital since the World War II, Londoners showed their stoical side today -- a determination not to be deflected from the rhythm of their daily lives.

The streets were clogged with traffic and the underground system, bombed into chaos on Thursday, was operating almost as usual.

Passengers spoke about traveling after the terror of the previous day.

“Maybe slightly but not really. We were really looking forward to coming to London, then obviously with the bombing yesterday, but we’d booked our flights and we figured that today was probably the safest day to travel and there would be so many police about. Life goes on anyway,” Lesley said.

“I think it’s probably one of the safer days to use it [the Underground] after an event like yesterday,” Lesley said.

For the security services, though, the hard work is only just beginning. Surprised by the bombers yesterday, they’ve launched a massive investigation since. The four bomb sites have been cordoned off, while forensic experts sift through the mounds of debris, often in gruesome conditions.

When I spoke to firefighter Harold Thomas, he’d just emerged from the tunnels deep beneath King’s Cross Station where 21 people died in the first of yesterday’s explosions: “We’re just standing by at the moment. They won’t be bringing anybody out. I can’t say too much.... It’s carnage really …. They’ve got ventilation down there. They’ve got fans. It’s going to be very hot down there because no trains are going through.”

Now that the dust has settled -- both metaphorically and in the real sense -- the question uppermost in people’s minds is: Who did it and why?

The previously barely heard of “Secret Organisation Group of Al-Qaeda of Jihad Organization in Europe” was quick to claim responsibility. But it is a shadowy organization about which almost nothing is known.

The fear here, though, is that the violence could prompt a backlash against Britain’s sizeable Muslim community.

Yesterday, the Islamic Human Rights Commission of Britain urged all Muslims to stay at home unless it was strictly necessary to go out.

On London’s Edgware Road, though, home to a large community of Middle Eastern origin, and just a few meters from another of Thursday’s bombs, the mood was less pessimistic.

Salah is an Arab Muslim who has lived in London for nine years.

“No, no, no! I won’t be afraid. Why should I be afraid? Because I know London. There is here a multicultural people and I know most of them they are educated, unlike the people, the ones who make this thing. They got a mental problem,” Salah said.

Many, however, fear that yesterday’s mayhem could drive an even bigger wedge between Britain and its Muslim minority.