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Terror jolts London, but British steady

Coordinated strikes on rush-hour commuters Thursday killed dozens.

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Just a day earlier, the city exulted in the triumph of winning the 2012 Olympic games. But jubilation turned to shock and revulsion Thursday, when a volley of bomb blasts wrought havoc in rush-hour London, killing at least 33 people, wounding 350 more, and bringing home forcefully that the British capital is a frontline in the war on terror.

Even as the country reeled from its worst-ever terrorist attack, comforting qualities of calm, bravery, determination, and solidarity shone through the hazy dismay.

London may be no stranger to terrorism following its long history of attacks from the Irish Republican Army, but it has never witnessed such a coordinated wave of violence in peacetime. Comparisons were quickly drawn with the attacks on Madrid trains last year that killed 191, and authorities could not rule out an escalating death count, particularly as the bus toll had not been assessed.

A little-known group apparently affiliated with al Qaeda claimed responsibility. Police said it was unclear whether suicide bombers were involved. Experts said the lack of warning, the coincidence with the G-8 summit, and the nature of the attacks resembled previous attacks by radicals professing to act in the name of Islam.

Londoners have long been bracing for such scenes. Police say they have already foiled several attacks, and have warned that terrorists would probably get through sooner or later. Attacks in November 2003 on British interests in Istanbul were taken as a warning sign.

Police and emergency services have stepped up training to deal with precisely this sort of scenario. "Ever since 9/11 we had a review of our plans, and have worked on various scenarios like this," says David Henson, a police spokesman.

Despite such preparations, Thursday's attacks exposed the acute difficulties authorities face in combating terrorism in one of Europe's best-prepared cities.

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