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Published: Tuesday, 7/19/2005

London's response

AMERICANS have looked at the bomb attacks in London with a combination of sympathy for the loss the British have experienced, admiration for their quick and efficient police work following the attacks, and nervousness over what the London attacks mean for the United States.

The official death toll now stands at 53, and it is expected to rise. That's nothing like the nearly 3,000 people America lost on Sept. 11, and the logistics of the 9/11 attacks were far more complex, but the ease of the means by which the London attacks were carried out is equally terrifying.

In fact, the video image showing some of the terrorists toting backpacks and calmly entering a London subway station looked eerily like the video of Mohammed Atta strolling through airport security in Boston on 9/11.

The calm of the Londoners in the face of what occurred evokes great sympathy and admiration for the traditional British stiff upper lip, honed by the blitz and decades of Irish Republican Army terrorist attacks.

British police work has been stunning in its effectiveness. The idea that closed-circuit television caught the four suicide bombers and possibly a fifth associate in action the morning of the attack, enabling quick identification and follow-up, has to be a model for such casework.

At the same time, the effectiveness came after the attacks had been carried out. The enormous difficulty of moving a nation's security apparatus from taking fast, after-the-fact action to nipping such plots in the bud remains.

The fact that evidence is indicating that the attacks were carried out by British nationals, as opposed to foreigners who might have been stopped at the borders, underlines the difficulty of preventing future such attacks. Deep work among Britain's Muslims - 3 percent of the population - is necessary, but clearly not easy to achieve.

Then there is the question of what the London attacks mean for the United States. President George W. Bush's line that we are fighting the terrorist enemies overseas so that we do not have to fight them at home becomes increasingly tasteless, as well as hollow, in view of what happened in London last week.

The general migration of suicide bombing over recent years has been from Palestine and Israel to Beirut to Baghdad to Madrid and now to London. The fact that the London attack took place in a relatively buttoned-down city, juxtaposed with a vision of the breadth and relatively relaxed profile of American public transport across the country, virtually spells it out:

We are next.

Our allies have been hit; the United Kingdom is our closest friend, in Iraq and in general. It is impossible to prevent a post-9/11 attack on us, whether it be in a shopping center, recreation site, or transportation facility.

So that means we have to go after the root causes of the attacks against us. Little or nothing that comes out of Washington indicates a disposition or ability on the part of the Bush Administration to tackle that part of the equation.

At the same time, it would be tragic if America were not to hear the British bell tolling, and realize that it is warning us.



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