LONDON, Reuters) – London was shaken but not bloodied by bus and train blasts that clearly echoed those two weeks ago in the choice of targets but not in their deadliness.
Three strikes hit the British capital”s underground rail network and a fourth device went off on a red double-decker bus, just as on July 7 when more than 50 people died, but this time only one person was hurt.
As anxiety eased, Londoners wondered if luck had spared them fresh carnage or if they had been victims of copycat attacks just aimed to scare, but the city police chief was in no doubt. "The intention must have been to kill," Ian Blair said.
Passengers on at least two of the tube trains told of would-be bombers fleeing after the small, near-simultaneous lunchtime explosions, which police said might have been detonators going off but failing to trigger a bomb.
Friday newspapers focused on the fact the perpetrators appeared to have got away.
"Four suicide bombers on the loose," was the tabloid Sun”s headline.
"I was sitting on the Tube not paying much attention to anything and I heard a pop, like a really big balloon had burst, then I saw a little smoke," passenger Kate Reid told the BBC.
"I saw a bag on the floor next to a young man who looked really scared. We pulled into the Oval station and he just sprinted away as soon as the doors opened."
On July 7, four young British Muslims detonated rucksack bombs in three packed trains and a bus at morning rush hour, killing more than 50 people as well as themselves and shocking a capital hitherto spared al Qaeda-style attacks on civilians.
Thursday”s attackers either failed to wreak their intended havoc, or lacked the same lethal sophistication.
"There was clearly mass panic," Ivan McCracken, a passenger at the central Warren Street station, told Sky television.
"An Italian … said a man was carrying a rucksack that suddenly exploded, a minor explosion but enough to blow open the rucksack, and the man then made an exclamation as if something had gone wrong and … everyone rushed off the carriage."
Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has rejected accusations that the invasion of Iraq has made Britain a target for Islamic militants, said: "We know why these things are done. They are done to scare people … We”ve got to react calmly."
Security analysts said the obvious carbon-copy attacks could have been masterminded either by the same group or by less sophisticated sympathisers, maybe young, disaffected Muslims.
"There is a resonance here," police chief Blair said, but he cautioned it would take time to tell who was to blame.
He said some of the four "explosions or attempts at explosions" seemed not to have gone off properly.
"This may represent a significant breakthrough," he said.
"There is obviously forensic material at these scenes which may be very helpful to us."
All four sites remained sealed off by police as commuters struggled home on a disrupted public transport network.
Police sources said they were hunting several fugitives after the attacks which came just after a memorial for July 7 victims, BBC television said. Police confirmed they had arrested two men but could not connect them with the explosions.
Armed officers later swarmed into a hospital near Warren Street amid media reports that they were looking for a man with wires protruding from the top he was wearing.
Police chiefs called for sweeping new powers such as holding terrorism suspects for up to three months without charge.
British shares and the pound fell on Thursday, but recovered once it emerged the attacks were on a small scale. U.S. stocks also slid due to nervousness after the blasts.
New York commuters faced random searches of backpacks and packages as police stepped up checks after the London attacks.
Although markets again rebounded from the latest shock, nervousness was growing about the prospect of more attacks.
"The security issues have just got 500 percent greater," said Jeremy Hodges, head of foreign exchange sales at Lloyds TSB bank. "It will reflect badly on the economy."