London, July 7 (Reuters): Yesterday, jubilant Londoners celebrated their city landing the 2012 Olympics. Less than 24 hours later, they faced carnage.
Rarely in peacetime can a city have gone through such extremes of emotion as London has this week.
When the British capital unexpectedly beat Paris to land the greatest prize in sport, crowds in Trafalgar Square leapt for joy and sprayed each other with champagne.
Strangers spontaneously hugged each other. Revellers partied into the night.
Then, on a drizzly Thursday morning, the city was hit by what so many had dreaded for so long ' rush hour bomb attacks deep underground on the capital’s subway system. At least 33 people died and the number of fatalities was expected to rise.
“The sun which set last night on joyous and happy celebrations in London rose this morning to a day of awful criminal savagery,” said defence secretary John Reid.
Olympic chief Jacques Rogge, who had announced London’s victory before wildly cheering British delegates in Singapore, was in equally sombre mood.
“I’m deeply saddened that this should happen at the heart of an Olympic city. Unfortunately there is no safe haven. No one can say their city is safe.”
Israel’s International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Alex Gilady said: “I was the one who told the IOC president of the attacks in London as it came close to the end of our meetings today and his answer was ‘tomorrow this could happen in Paris’ and we know that he is right.”
Security expert Gunnar Jarvas said: “It looks like a message from Osama bin Laden & Co. In London they’ve said for a long time it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. The ‘when’ is now.”
And there was an added irony to the bomb blasts.
Among the Olympic candidate cities defeated by London were New York, forever scarred by September 11 2001, and Madrid, where almost 200 people died in rush hour bomb blasts last year.
“The spirit of Londoners will not be broken,” pledged Ken Livingstone, mayor of a city pummelled by German bombers in World War II and then by Irish Republican Army bombers.
“I think the intrepid British are taking it in their stride,” said MORI pollster Robert Worcester. “A country which withstood the Blitz is not going to be deviated by this.”
On Sunday, Britain is marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. The mood of the commemorations will now, inevitably, be more reflective than ever. That Blitz spirit of national unity could be revived.
“People are sombre today but we will get through this. Veterans will be remembered at Sunday’s 60th anniversary,” said defence analyst Paul Beaver.
“I am stunned by this. The change of mood is just remarkable at Gleneagles (scene of the G8 summit of western industrialised nations) and in London. The bombers chose exactly the right time to do it,” he said.
As thousands of commuters faced a long slog home on a crippled transport system today evening, the words of one police chief rang in their ears: “We don’t know this is over yet. We have to remain vigilant,” said assistant deputy commissioner of London police Brian Paddick. “This is an incredibly challenging time for London.”