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Londoners deal with new reality

A day after the second attack on the London transportation system in two weeks time, the city was on high alert.  NBC News Ned Colt discusses the tense mood in London and how people are coping with what now appears to be an ongoing threat.
Police officers watch over the Liverpool Street subway station in London on Friday.Sergio Dionisio / AP
/ Source: NBC News

A day after the second attack on London's transportation system in two weeks, the city was on high alert Friday. 

NBC News Ned Colt discusses the tense mood in London and how people are coping with what now appears to be an ongoing threat.

The Metropolitan Police held a news conference this morning and released images of suspects in Thursday’s bombings — how quickly are they getting these images out? Are they plastering them around the city?
They are already on television and that’s going to be a big plus in terms of trying to track them down. I haven’t seen the pictures myself, but I’ve been told that they are close-ups, and if you knew the individuals, you’d be able to tell who they were.

So these closed-circuit cameras, which were so controversial when they started putting them into place, and now there are as many as 20,000 across London, are clearly serving a positive purpose and having a very positive effect, without any question.

Within in 24 hours of these bombings, they’ve been able to come up with images of these four suspects, thanks to the closed circuit cameras.

A man walking in the subway this morning was shot and killed by police. Is that sort of a reflection of the panic mode in London at the moment?
I think that it’s premature to suggest that. There are conflicting reports, as there always are with a variety of witnesses in a situation that is so explosive.

We’ve heard that anywhere from five to 10 shots were fired, that this individual had been on the train car for a short time and acted very nervous. He was described as a young south Asian looking man, dressed in a heavy black overcoat. That is something that at this time of year, when it is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit in London, it doesn’t seem to be something that one would normally need. Whether he has any connection to yesterday’s bombings is still unclear.

They say that apparently there was a very brief scuffle on board one of the subway cars with him and three or four police. What we’re hearing is that there were five shots, apparently to the head. That would not be surprising, given that they would not want to shoot him in the body if there was any concern about him possibly carrying explosives.

How rare is it that incidents like that — of police shooting possible suspects — happen there. Unfortunately, we seem more accustomed to that sort of thing here in the U.S., but how rare is it in the U.K.?
Here it is a very unusual situation when police fire weapons. It just shows where London is right now and the concern they’ve got about these continuing attacks on the transportation system here.

I believe that after the deadly bombing of two weeks ago, that the police were given clearance to use deadly force against terror suspects if there is a perceived threat. Clearly, the police are saying that there was a perceived threat today here at the Stockton Underground station.  

The bombs that were detonated yesterday but did not explode were said to be fairly “amateurish.” Is there a fear that the July 7 attacks will now lead to a series of “copy-cat” attacks?
There are a number of possible motivations for who may have been behind this — they may have been involved in the original attacks. We are not hearing anything specific or definitive about that at this point.

But, it does appear that, yes, these were not the most sophisticated bombers or bombs because all four only partially detonated. Yet we are being told by police that they were highly explosive and were capable of doing a lot of damage, had they gone off the way they were intended to.

Clearly, what was very different from two weeks ago was that this was a more amateurish operation. Also the fact that the four had no intention, apparently, of being martyrs to their cause and being suicide bombers, as opposed to those involved in the attacks two weeks ago.  

There is no doubt that the police are looking at possible links because it would help them to track down who was involved in the bombings of two weeks ago and find out if there are more cells operating in London. But they can do that very well with the information they have now. They have a number of these explosives and are no doubt checking for DNA, fingerprints and listening to witness statements from those who saw these men before they fled.

The subway drivers in London are threatening to stop working because they are scared of another attack. What would happen in London if the entire tube network stopped running?
There were reports yesterday that a number of the lines were not operating, not only because of the perceived threat level, but also because they weren’t getting enough drivers to operate the transport here.

The leaders of the drivers union are saying that they are not getting enough information and that they are not feeling secure enough before they get on these trains that are perceived as being more dangerous.

The subway system runs some 50 miles across London, and some 3 million people take the subway everyday. The figure is close to 9 million for those who take all of the public transportation — including buses and trains. 

It is the primary way for people to get to and from work in the heart of London. They’ve got to keep it running.

The question now is how best to provide safety for those passengers who take public and private transport in and around London on a daily basis. They’ve already put bomb-sniffing dogs on board a number of trains.

But to really cover the entire system would be extremely difficult. This is not like hopping on a plane and being checked at the gate. It just isn’t that simple with so many different train stops.

I believe that there are some 250 subway stops here in London. It would be next to impossible, everyone would agree, to provide perfect security at every site. It’s just not feasible.

What is the mood on the streets in London? With the daily briefings by the Metropolitan Police showing images of suspects, is it sort of surreal? Are people fearful or tense?
It really depends on who you speak with. I have taken the subway numerous times during the last couple of days and you tend to disassociate yourself from it.

Given my line of work, I’m often concerned about safety and often check to see how one could get out in case of a fire or any untoward activity.

But, speaking with people here, they all deal with it in different ways. There are some who say that this is not having any effect on them. They are being quite stoic and are saying that they will continue to go on about their business. 

I was speaking with a cab driver last night who said that business has improved dramatically for him over the last few days as a result of these bombings. And it’s not just for security reasons that people are using their bicycles or taking taxis to work. It’s also because in so many cases the subway lines aren’t operating because of the security threats.

By and large, people do seem to be going about their business. But, remember that this is a country that back in the ’70s and ’80s this is a country that dealt with what they called “The Troubles.” That was when the Irish Republican Army and other groups brought their battles from Northern Ireland here to London and elsewhere in the U.K.

So, this is not necessarily new to Londoners, but it has been a while. And the situation has changed somewhat. Quite often during “The Troubles,” the bombers would call ahead to the police and let them know what they could expect in terms of where a bomb was and when it might go off.

Clearly we are not seeing that in this situation. That is what makes this a much more scary one for those that use London transport.