By London bureau chief
NBC News
updated 7/21/2005 12:37:55 PM ET 2005-07-21T16:37:55
REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK

LONDON — Thursday July 7. It is the morning rush hour.

My usual train through the Western suburbs is canceled and so I take one that brings me right into the heart of London. It is inconvenient and time-consuming.

As I step out onto the platform a loudspeaker announces that the Underground station is closed. A moment later it says several Underground stations are closed.

My day is going badly. I’m late — and now I’m going to have to schlep across London.

I walk onto the train station concourse. It is bursting at the seams with people. Transport police seal off the escalator to the Underground.

I think about buying some shaving cream from the Body Shop kiosk. I stop and look. But something inside me says: Not now.

I walk out into the street, intending to look for a cab. There are hundreds of people walking, all talking on their mobile phones. It is difficult to get a signal. My news desk tells me there’s a “power outage” that has hit a number of stations.

As I walk further, the sidewalks are unaccountably filled with people — thousands of them outside their offices. There are sirens. A fire truck speeds by.

I call the new desk. It’s the last call I can make for an hour. But I manage to say: “This doesn’t feel right. This could be a terrorist attack.”

Twenty minutes or so later, in a square not far from the station, a bus explodes, killing many of its passengers. I do not hear the bang, though I hear more sirens. Fifty minutes earlier, I learn later, three bombs have detonated on crowded underground trains.

Terrorists.

Not the first time
This is not the first time I’ve experienced the aftermath of their work.

In Belfast, my hotel was blown up in an IRA blast (for years it carried the unenviable reputation of being the most bombed hotel in Europe). 

The window lay on top of the bed I would have been sleeping in, had I not been making merry late in to the night elsewhere. 

Huge shards of glass stabbed deep into the leather sofas of the hotel bar where I’d been a few hours earlier. The windows in the pub opposite — every one — lay shattered across the tables where I’d sat drinking Guinness. Thank god for the black stuff, I thought, for keeping me out of harm’s way.

Hometown attacked
But none touched me as much as the time my hometown of Warrington was attacked. 

A bomb was placed with evil cunning in a cast iron trash can in the main street, so that it became a massive blast of shrapnel. And in an act of unsurpassed cruelty, a second device exploded in another trash can 100 yards away — timed to catch those fleeing from the first.

These heroes of the terrorists’ cause killed a teenage boy and a toddler and wounded scores more. It was the day before Mothers’ Day 1993 — a pernicious sense of timing from twisted minds.

My first call was to my own mother, praying that she had not gone into town to do some shopping. I called some old friends. They were also safe, though almost too shocked to talk.

Then I got in my car and drove there as fast as I could. For a week I walked the streets of my childhood and stood outside the hospitals, reporting on men’s inhumanity to children.

The bombers presumably ran away from this, the "softest" of targets, stopping only to slap themselves on the back at another job well done.

How times have changed.

'Soft target': Ordinary folks
Two weeks ago the targets in London were still as “soft” as you can get. Ordinary folk going about their business. No armor plating or armed guards here.

But this time the bombers didn’t run away. They blew themselves up along with their victims.

Suicide bombers — the terrorists’ grisly answer to the precision-guided missile — have come to wreak their perverted vengeance on the country they call home.

In these awful days after the attacks, we have comforted ourselves with the knowledge that we have been through worse.

Hitler threw everything he had at us — and, according to popular legend, we came out singing. The IRA bombers turned to attacking the mainland when things got too tough for them closer to home — and we saw them off too.

It won’t be easy, but we will go on
So we will get through this. It won’t be easy. For those who lost loved ones, life has surely lost some of its worth. For the rest of us, we know it’s not over yet.

Those who espouse the extreme fanaticism of the London suicide bombers will no doubt find encouragement in their deaths. Martyrdom is the name of their game. They are welcome to it.

Two weeks later, I take the train through the burbs and walk to my office.

On the train people go about their business as usual. Perhaps one or two look more carefully at the luggage some are carrying.

Mostly they mind their own business, just as those poor folk did before the bombs went off.

I walk to the bureau and see a handful of people on the sidewalks, talking on their phones.

I need to go buy some shaving cream.

Addendum: 5:20 p.m. London time

So bombers have struck again — or attempted to.

As I write this, just four hours after the attacks, the Underground trains are running again.

A colleague just rode one. He says it was packed. People were standing there acting pretty much as normal  — ignoring each other.

As I was saying, before the terrorists interrupted me, we'll get through this, and any more that come our way. Prime Minister Blair is urging us all to stay calm. 10-4 Tony. We already are.

Chris Hampson is NBC News London Bureau Chief. 

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