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Blasts first thought to be half an hour apart { July 10 2005 }

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Explosions on subway synchronized, police say
At least 20 still missing; 2 cars stuck in tunnel
- Alan Cowell, New York Times
Sunday, July 10, 2005

London -- The British police revised critical details of Thursday's terrorist bombings on Saturday, saying that three of the four bombs exploded "almost simultaneously" on subway trains, rather than over a period of almost half an hour as initially announced.

At a news conference, senior police officers said the three bombs striking the London Underground had been separated by 50 seconds, a revision of their initial assertion that they exploded over a period of 26 minutes.

The fourth bomb, which ripped off the top of a double-decker bus at Tavistock Square, exploded about 57 minutes later. The police on Saturday said they could not fully explain the time lag.

With the evidence that the Underground bombs were closely synchronized, the police said it was more likely that the bombers had used timing devices and that they had planned a simultaneous attack, to maximize the impact on London and its commuters.

"It was bang, bang, bang -- very close together," said Tim O'Toole, the managing director of the London Underground, who spoke at a news conference with the police.

London remained jittery on Saturday, with bomb scares and security alerts forcing people to be evacuated from places such as King's Cross station, one of the sites attacked.

Outside the station, flowers and sympathy cards were piling up outside in a tribute to the 21 known killed when the train was bombed in the tunnel between King's Cross and Russell Square stations.

In the first suggestion that British alarms had spread beyond London, the police in Birmingham ordered searches of bars, restaurants and clubs on Saturday night and said cars would not be permitted into the city center. About 20,000 people were evacuated from the central entertainment district because of intelligence alleging a "substantial threat," said Stuart Hyde, assistant chief constable of West Midlands Police.

As the city center was emptied, the police said they had made a number of "controlled explosions" -- a term used for detonations by police explosives experts of suspicious-looking bags, suitcases or packages.

In southern England, Eurostar train services, which link Paris and London, were delayed Saturday after a security alert closed the Ashford international station for about an hour. Two pieces of unattended luggage were destroyed in controlled explosions and later found to contain nothing suspicious.

Subway officials in London had said from the beginning that Thursday's attacks came closer together than the police had suggested. But the police said Saturday that their conclusion that the bombings were more closely synchronized was based on their own investigations. They emphasized that the earlier information they had released was not a deliberate attempt to mislead.

At a news conference, Brian Paddick, deputy assistant police commissioner, said the three underground bombs -- near Liverpool Street station, near King's Cross station and at Edgware Road -- "exploded within 50 seconds of each other" at 8:50 a.m. He said the initial error in the reported timing had been caused because the police were only informed of the explosion at the Edgware Road station at 9:17 a.m., more than 25 minutes after the time the blast is now thought to have occurred.

At least 49 people died in the attacks. Of the approximately 700 people initially wounded, about 65 people remained hospitalized Saturday.

Police said at least 20 people were still missing and feared dead, most of them entombed in the wreckage of a Piccadilly Line train in a narrow tunnel some 70 feet below ground. In moments that recalled the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and at the Pentagon, people gathered forlornly with photographs of missing lovers, friends and relatives at some of the attack locations.

The police said they were having extreme difficulty excavating additional bodies from two cars trapped in a subway tunnel deep below ground between King's Cross Station and Russell Square in central London. The police also said they had not identified any of the bodies.

"It's extremely hot, extremely dusty and quite dangerous down there," said Andy Trotter, a senior police officer.

At the news conference, Paddick had little additional information about the kinds of explosive devices used in the attacks. Each device is said by the police to have contained less than 10 pounds of "high explosives." He also said the devices were "not homemade." He added, "But whether it was military, commercial, plastic, we don't want to say at this stage."

Paddick offered two theories for the way the bombers might have operated. "Either you have people with the explosive devices who synchronized watches or whatever and have all subsequently detonated their devices at the same time," he said, "or that they have been triggered by timing devices coordinated to go off at the same time."

In a subsequent interview with the BBC, Paddick said the police's initial inclination was "that it was timing devices, but you could have three people manually detonating their bombs."

He did not say when, exactly, the police believed the bombs had been planted. All three detonated in tunnels between subway stations, as close as 100 yards from platforms. Pressed for detail, Paddick said the evidence leaned "more toward timing devices than people with the bombs manually detonated."

In seeking to explain the lag between the underground explosions and the bus bombing, Paddick said, "There's a possibility that the person with the bomb died on the bus.

"There's also the possibility that he just left the bomb before it exploded, " he said, but "evidence that we have so far is that it was a device in a bag rather than something strapped to an individual."

Trying to explain the discrepancy between the first chronology and Saturday's, Paddick said that while fire engines and ambulances had been alerted to an emergency at Edgware Road Station soon after the explosion, the first communications spoke of a person who had fallen underneath a train rather than a bomb blast: "9:17 was the first time we had a call to the Metropolitan Police to confirm it was an explosion," he said. By that time, police officers and other emergency workers were at the station, he said.

At that time, the official explanation of the unfolding situation was that there had been a "power surge."

O'Toole, of the London Underground, said Saturday that the subway authorities ordered all trains to a halt at 9:15 a.m. -- roughly 25 minutes after the explosions -- and evacuated the entire network "a few minutes after that." About 500 trains had been running on the network at the time, he said, and "we were still struggling to understand what had happened.

"From our perspective, to stop the system is a very grave decision. You have people on trains in tunnels. Once stopped, it's very hard to start it again," he said.

The police said they had made no arrests.

When asked about the claim of responsibility by a group calling itself the Secret Organization of al Qaeda in Europe, Prime Minister Tony Blair told the BBC on Saturday it was "reasonably obvious that it comes from that type of quarter."

A second claim appeared on a Web site Saturday, this one signed Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, a group whose name invokes the alias of Mohammed Atef, Osama bin Laden's top deputy who was killed in a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan in November 2001.

Terrorism experts said the group had no proven record of attacks, and noted it had claimed responsibility for events in which it was unlikely to have played any role -- the 2003 blackouts in the United States and London that resulted from technical problems, for example.

Chronicle news services contributed to this report.

Page A - 10

Blasts first thought to be half an hour apart { July 10 2005 }
Blasts in london parallel madrid bombings { July 8 2005 }
Bombers used military explosives { July 12 2005 }
Bombes were watched by british intelligence { May 11 2006 }
Bus hit by attack [jpg]
Military quality bombs used in london { July 13 2005 }
Simultaneity of london blasts suggests timers { July 10 2005 }
Timing devices discovered in london
Timing devices found in debris
Unexploded devices discovered in london

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