Toll from London bombing raised above 50
Updated: 2005-07-08 19:13

Police on Friday raised the death toll to more than 50 from London's terrorist bombings but said they hadn't yet been able to reach all of the dead. Commuters reluctantlyreturned to the Underground, but buses and subways carried fewer riders than normal in the aftermath of four rush-hour blasts.

The scene at Tavistock Square, with debris on the ground and bloodstains on the wall, following a bus explosion there, in London, Thursday July 7, 2005. At least 40 people have been killed in explosions in London, a U.S. law enforcement official says. [AP]

Sir Ian Blair, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said no evidence suggested that the attacks involved suicide bombers but that officials hadn't ruled out the possibility. He said a precise death toll wasn't yet known.

"We know that there are more than 50 fatalities. There is a great difficulty in determining how many fatalities there are because two of the scenes are very difficult in terms of recovery," Blair said.

He said officials still hadn't gotten near the subway cars of the Russell Square station, fearing the tunnel unsafe, and he said the nature of the blast that ripped apart a double-decker bus was making it difficult to establish a death toll there.

London's mass transit system reopened Friday, though some commuters, admitting they were afraid, opted for a taxi. Normally packed double-decker buses carried just a handful of passengers, and many Underground stations were less congested than normal. But others said they had little choice but to board the subway.

"I was scared, but what can you do?" said Raj Varatharaj, 32, emerging from an Underground station. "This is the fastest way for me to get to work. You just have to carry on."

Assistant Police Commissioner Andy Hayman said officials believe the bombs were placed on the floors of the three subway cars that were hit. He said the initial investigation suggests that each bomb had less than 10 pounds of explosives.

Based on evidence recovered from the rubble, investigators believe some of the bombs were on timers, a U.S. law enforcement official said. The official would not further describe the evidence.

Investigators doubt that cell phones — used in the Madrid train attacks a year ago — were used to detonate the bombs in the Underground because the phones often don't work in the system's tunnels, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Police denied that they had found any unexploded devices. On Thursday, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information said British authorities identified suspicious packages and detonated them in controlled explosions.

Thursday's subway blasts went off within 18 minutes, starting at 8:51 a.m. An explosion ripped the roof off a double-decker bus less than an hour later, attacks that came as world leaders were opening the G-8 summit in Scotland.

More than 700 people were wounded. The police commissioner said 100 victims were hospitalized overnight, 22 in critical condition.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who just the day before had been basking in glory of Britain's successful Olympics bid, condemned the attacks and blamed Islamic extremists. Foreign Minister Jack Straw said the attacks bore the hallmark of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, the group responsible for Sept. 11.

Ten of London's 12 subway lines reopened Friday, though service on three was restricted. Bus service was running through central London, except for diversions around blast sites.

Aldona Mosjko, a 21-year-old bagel shop manager from Poland, was among those too frightened to take public transportation Friday. "Normally, I take the bus, but today, I took a taxi. I was a bit afraid," she said.

Stocks opened higher in Europe on Friday, with insurance and travel-related stocks regaining some of the ground they lost on Thursday.

Queen Elizabeth II, her son Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Dutchess of Cornwall, visited bombing victims at a crowded St. Mary's Hospital.

"It's been one of the things that many of us have dreaded for a long time," Charles said, speaking to patients injured in the blasts. "What I can never get over is the resilience of the British people who have set us all a fantastic example of how to recover."

Some commuters commented on what appeared to be a light police presence at some Underground stations.

"Everyone is very quiet, everybody is a bit anxious," said Anil Patel, 40, a banker. "An obvious (police) presence would have settled your nerves."

The "Secret Group of al-Qaida's Jihad in Europe" claimed it was behind the attacks, but the claim could not be immediately verified. In a posting on a Web site, the group said the bombings were punishment for Britain's involvement in the war in Iraq and invasion of Afghanistan.

It threatened to attack Italy and Denmark for their support of the U.S.-led coalitions in both countries, too.

British Home Secretary Charles Clarke said authorities were taking the claim of responsibility seriously, and a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said the posting was considered a "potentially very credible" claim, in part because it appeared soon after the attacks. But no one was certain, and one defense official said it was too early to say.

Investigators said they would look for evidence in the debris from Thursday's attacks and in the video footage from some 1,800 cameras in London's train stations.

Charles Shoebridge, a security analyst and former counterterrorism intelligence officer, said detectives will have to watch thousands of hours of video — slowly and carefully. Investigators will try to find on tape the point at which bombs were placed, then trace back the movements of the bomber, a task he said could involve hundreds of cameras.

The blasts paralyzed the city's public transportation system Thursday, halting subway service, delaying buses and stranding thousands of residents and tourists.

Scenes of frantic subway passengers covered in soot, some cut and bleeding and flooding out of subway stations flashed across television screens.

"I didn't hear anything, just a flash of light, people screaming, no thoughts of what it was, I just had to get out of the train," said subway passenger Chris Randall, 28, who was hospitalized with cuts and burns on his face, legs and hands.

The worst attack on London since World War II brought out a stoicism that recalled Britain under the blitz of the Nazi Luftwaffe.

As Wednesday's jubilation at winning the 2012 Summer Olympics gave way to the terrible shock of Thursday's attacks, Blair rushed back to the capital and made a televised appeal for unity, praising the "stoicism and resiliency of the British people."

Both were in evidence across the city, as volunteers helped the wounded from blast sites, commuters lent their phones so strangers could call home, and thousands faced long lines for homeward-bound buses or even longer walks without complaint.

"As Brits, we'll carry on — it doesn't scare us at all" said tour guide Michael Cahill, 37. "Look, loads of people are walking down the streets. It's Great Britain — not called 'Great' for nothing."

Security was raised in the United States and around the world. The Bush administration upped the terror alert a notch to code orange for the nation's mass transit systems, and bomb-sniffing dogs and armed police patrolled subways and buses in the capital.

Much of Europe also went on alert, and Italy's airports raised alert levels to a maximum.

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