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The British knew it was coming. They didn't know when, they didn't know where, they didn't know how. But ever since Sept. 11, 2001--ever since New York and Bali and Jakarta and Karachi and Riyadh and Casablanca and Madrid and Baghdad were hit by radical Islamic terrorists--Londoners had recognized that sooner or later, the bombers would get around to them too. "I don't feel angry," said research student Kevin Benish, 21, as he placed a bunch of lilies on a makeshift shrine outside King's Cross station the next day. "I knew it wasn't a question of if but when something like this would happen."
The attacks came in a city that was feeling extraordinarily pleased with itself. Its population growing, its economy booming, reveling in its modern self-image as a tolerantly multicultural place, London was having fun. The weekend before the bombings, the city had hosted the last few days of Wimbledon and a Live 8 concert in Hyde Park with more than 200,000 in attendance. "London," wrote Henry Porter in the Observer, "seems to be the hub of the world." And that was three days before the city won the right to hold the Olympics, beating out a field that included the only other cities that have traditionally had global hublike pretensions, Paris and New York.
Then the lights went out. On Thursday morning, Chris Lowry, 17, a lawyer's clerk, was sitting on a Piccadilly Line train outside King's Cross when "a fat blast came from the front end. I actually think I fell out of my seat at first--all I could see was smoke." Eventually, emergency workers moved passengers to the back of the train and up into the station, where Lowry remembers "trails of blood going up the stairways." Nicolas Thioulouse, 27, a French architect, was in a train under Edgware Road station when a bomb exploded on a train on the adjacent track. "I had the feeling I was in a fish tank," says Thioulouse, "seeing people in the opposite car with their faces completely covered by blood." People tried to cheer each another up. A teenage girl had collapsed in tears but had a tissue with the word LIFE printed on it: Thioulouse told her she wouldn't die while she was holding it. Five miles across central London, on a train between Liverpool Street and Aldgate, Michael Henning heard the bomb and then saw "lots of silver"--in reality, shards of glass that sliced up the right side of his face while leaving the left side virtually untouched. "I'm still shaking out the glass," he said on his way out of the Royal London Hospital. "I feel very, very lucky. Within 10 feet, two people must have died."