LONDON, July 7 (UPI) -- Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to leave the G8 summit to take charge of the response to the London bombings, now assumed to have been the work of al-Qaida, underscored the prime responsibility of heads of government for the national security.
The other powerful concerns of the G8 summit -- poverty in Africa and global warming, the rise of China and the unstable system of international finances -- faded into lesser proportion as London's casualty toll rose to a reported 20 dead and at least 160 wounded after a concerted attack on the transit system of the British capital.
Israeli sources told United Press International they had been told of a special security alert by Scotland Yard Wednesday, apparently provoked by some intelligence of an attack by Islamic extremists. Just after Blair announced that he was leaving the G8 summit to head for London, the BBC reported that a Web site linked to al-Qaida had claimed responsibility for the attacks.
If true, this would be the fourth major al-Qaida attack on a Western city, after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, and the Madrid attack in March last year. Britain, along with the United States and Israel, was one of countries on which al-Qaida formally declared war in 1998.
Until Blair's arrival, the COBRA emergency headquarters at the Cabinet office was being run by Home Secretary Charles Clarke, but immediate operation control was in the hands of Ian Blair (no relation) the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who said "the London emergency plan is working."
The Web site claiming responsibility said it was the work of a new organization, called the "Secret Army of al-Qaida," and it displayed the characteristic mix of archaic religious language and modern political passion.
"Britain is burning with terror and fear and panic," the statement said. "We have warned the British government to leave Iraq and Afghanistan, and warn the other Crusader nations like Denmark and Italy which have sent soldiers to occupy Islamic lands."
Security sources told UPI that the claim of responsibility sounded convincing, but that they had not heard previously of the group. A security alert took place across Europe, with France declaring a special emergency watch on ports and airports, in case some of the bombers were trying to escape.
"This is being treated as a coordinated terrorist attack," Blair said just before he left Scotland. And he reported that the G8 leaders had asked him to stress that they all "utterly condemned" the bombings, which they described as "an attack not on Britain alone but on us all and on civilized people everywhere."
"We will not allow violence to change our society nor our values," Blair said, stressing that the G8 summit would continue under the chairmanship of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. "We will continue our deliberations in the interests of a better world," Blair added.
President George W. Bush said that "the war on terrorism goes on," adding that he had been impressed by the resolve of all the other G8 leaders.
"Hope and compassion will triumph over the ideology of hate," Bush said.
The London strike appeared at first sight to be a repeat of the attack on the Madrid rail system, when small bombs were left in bags on trains and exploded by cell phones and timers.
The London attack seemed designed to provoke at least as many casualties, with multi-target attacks at the peak of London's morning rush hour, and concentrated in the city itself, the main financial district.
At least four bombs, one on a bus and three on Underground trains, seem to have been used and bringing chaos to a London still celebrating its award Wednesday of the 2012 Olympics. The entire transit system was closed, along with main line rail stations and hospitals declared that they were closed to all but emergency patients.
The trouble began just before 9 a.m. London time when unexplained power surges were reported at the Underground stations of Liverpool Street, Aldgate, Old Street and Russell Square, at least two of caused by bombs exploding inside train carriages. By 9:33 a.m., the entire Underground system was brought to a halt, and all trains and stations were being evacuated -- a process still under way three hours later. A major operation was under way to evacuate wounded from a stricken train deep inside a tunnel near King's Cross station.
Then London Transport Police confirmed "casualties" after a bomb blew off the top of a double-decker bus in Russell Square, near the British Museum, and witnesses said blood was visible on nearby buildings, and what seemed to be bodies lay under tarpaulins.
The Metropolitan Police, initially refusing to confirm casualties in an attempt to prevent panic, then confirmed that there were casualties at the Aldgate Underground station, where an explosion apparently took place while a train was at a platform. One ambulance driver at the scene told reporters that they were dealing with "at least 90 casualties."
Cash points and ATM machines throughout the city quickly ran dry as people stocked up on cash and tried to get home by taxi. But there were no signs of panic, nor of anger against the predominantly Muslim districts of Brick Lane and Whitechapel, themselves close to some of the bombed stations.
If the attack was indeed the work of al-Qaida, this was the terror group's first formal operation on British soil, although Britain has been a major Islamic cultural center for many years, welcoming Islamic immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and many refugees from the Middle East. Close to 2 million Muslims live in Britain, and a tiny fraction of them have become involved in radical Islamic politics, focused on a handful of mosques.
The presence of Bush, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao at Gleneagles in Scotland, along with other world leaders gathered for the G8 summit, heightened the alarm in London, even though the summit was nearly 400 miles north of the British capital.
But it demonstrated once again the long arm of al-Qaida, for whom London as the capital of one of the countries that invaded Iraq in 2003, and as host of the current G8 summit, was a highly desirable target.