Saturday 16 December 2017

7/7: Bomb that lifted me out of my office chair

The No 30 bus, in which a bomb on board exploded, killing 13 passengers during the 7/7 terror outrage in 2005
The No 30 bus, in which a bomb on board exploded, killing 13 passengers during the 7/7 terror outrage in 2005

The Aldgate Tube Station bomb went off shortly before 8.50am on a sunny Thursday in July. It lifted me out of my seat. Inches from my face, a floor to ceiling window buckled in its frame as the impact of the blast travelled up through the steel structure of Aldgate House, the office block where I had been working for a couple of months. Mercifully the glass held.

Thirteen years earlier, just one street away, two people had been killed and 80 injured, mostly a result of falling glass, when an IRA bomb had ripped through nearby Leadenhall Street. Windows across the City were reinforced after that.

On July 7, 2005 the glass held. But the devastation was still horrendous.

Half an hour earlier I had tramped up the steps of the Tube station next door. Now black smoke, thickened by the 100 years of greasy soot that the blast scraped from the tunnel walls, drifted up the same steps. Unlike many Tube stations, much of the platform at Aldgate is open to the air.

Trains enter the station through shallow tunnels at either end, but the platform itself is only covered by a high timber roof suspended over the narrow half-submerged station between two offices blocks. In one of those blocks I worked as a reporter covering corporate mergers. My colleagues and I knew immediately that a bomb had gone off, and by the rancid smoke that poured up through the Tube tunnel to the platform, it was quickly clear it had gone off in the Underground.

Standing by our desks, three of us stared down from the intact window into the almost motionless station below. The early hour meant we were among the few witnesses to one of the most heroic sights I have ever seen.

Within seconds of the blast, through the slats of the old timber roof, we saw Tube workers, ordinary workers in their red, white and blue uniforms racing down into the rising smoke.

They were moving into unknown danger, but within minutes, and long before the emergency services reached the scene, they were guiding shocked, bloodied and soot-covered commuters into the daylight. We later learned that eight people, including the bomber, were dead.

In all, there were four terror attacks that fateful day. Seconds after Aldgate, another Circle line train exploded just outside Edgware Road station and a third bomb exploded on a Piccadilly line Tube at Russell Square station.

With the city reeling amid fears of more terrorist attacks, London went into shutdown - but more tragedy was to strike an hour later.

As the No 30 London bus was driven through Tavistock Square, a bomb on board exploded, killing 13 passengers. In total, 52 people were killed in the 7/7 bombings. Four British suicide bombers, linked with al-Qaeda, also died.

The bombers, aged between 18 and 30, came from West Yorkshire.

Donal O'Donovan is deputy business editor of the Irish Independent

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