Czechs react to horrific attacks in London

London bus after the attacks, photo: CTK

The world is still in shock one day after four bombs brought terror, death and destruction to London. Security services around the world - including the Czech Republic - are on high alert, as police in London launch a frantic hunt for the killers.

London bus after the attacks,  photo: CTK
The death toll from the blasts was at least 50 on Friday morning, and was expected to rise further. Seven hundred people were injured, and many of them are fighting for their lives in hospital. The British authorities admit that the task of finding those responsible was very difficult. The British Home Secretary Charles Clarke said finding the culprits was like "searching for needles in haystacks". Czech Radio's Vit Pohanka was in Scotland covering the G8 summit when the attack happened.

"I was up in Scotland actually covering the G8 summit at Gleneagles, and then my boss, my editor told me to go down to London, so I was driving from Scotland to London yesterday afternoon. And all along the way there were warnings - avoid London, do not go there, London closed even, which actually didn't prove quite true. But it was true that the traffic situation on the roads was difficult, coming to London, because a lot of people were trying to get out of the town or get into the town, because the train services were disrupted. So it took me quite a long time - I mean a longer time than it would normally take."

London bus after the attacks,  photo: CTK
Vit Pohanka told Radio Prague Londoners appeared to be heeding the authorities' call to carry on life as normal.

"I have to say that most of the people seemed to be in line with the official pronouncements from the politicians and the leaders, that the best response to the terrorist attacks is just to carry on with your life and with your work. So everyone I spoke to seemed to be pretty resolved to just go to work and do what they would normally do. Having said that, it's true that some institutions in the centre like schools and some businesses are closed, but that is because they decided in this situation, under these circumstances, to have a longer weekend and not to make the situation more difficult."

Evacuation from London underground after the attacks,  photo: CTK
It will take some time for London to recover from the attacks, though Vit Pohanka said he was impressed by how the British people and the British authorities handled what was a very distressing and very unpredictable situation.

"These warnings - stay where you are, do not go out, do not go to work unless you have to, do not call the emergency services unless your life is threatened etc - that was quite ominous. But everything seemed to be very well organized. And being a Czech, I was wondering if something like that happened in Prague, what it would be like. How would the media react? How would the politicians react? And I'm sorry to say I suspect the British response was much better than I would expect in the Czech Republic. But that is my personal judgment."

King's Cross underground station,  photo: CTK
There are lots of Czechs living in London. Jitka Paterson-Sigmund has been living in Britain since 1945 - we asked her what she was doing when she heard about the attacks.

"I was sitting in front of my computer, doing some work for the British Czech and Slovak Association, and in the background I always have Radio 4 going, very low, you know. But suddenly something caught my attention so I put it louder and then of course the computer work stopped and then I just started following what was going on."

What were the first thoughts that went through your head when you heard the news that bombs had gone off in London?

Photo: CTK
"Well naturally the thoughts were for one's family. I have two sons, one I know is currently on holiday in France so that was no problem. The other son, I had spoken to a bit earlier, he lives in Hackney, but he is unpredictable about where his work will take him on a daily basis. He's an artist, working freelance, so I was not sure where he was going to be. So after about half an hour I telephoned to establish that he was at his studio no problem, and that the children were at their schools again, everybody was where they should be."

Was there a sense of inevitably about this attack?

"We've all been told over the last few months, it's not a question of if, it's a question of when. But I think that one thinks to dismiss that a bit. We were all reasonably relaxed about it, certainly for myself. I never worried about going on the tube or on the buses or anything like that. I cannot speak for others of course."

Egware Road station,  photo: CTK
And are you worried now? Do you think this will change your behaviour and your daily habits?

"Not really, no. I don't think so. Life has got to go on. I'm old enough to have lived through the war, and life has got to go on."

Many Londoners interviewed by the media have said that it won't deter them from going about their business, that there is this sense of business as normal, that life must carry on. Do you get that sense this morning, 24 hours after the attacks, that Londoners are determined to carry on as normal?

"I think so. This morning the Central London schools are not open. They allowed the children to stay at home because they didn't know whether their parents could bring them in or take them out because of the simple business of getting around. But I'm sure it will all carry on as normal. I think people will be more vigilant. I think they have been vigilant about left bags and things."

London bus after the attacks,  photo: CTK
Czech politicians have also been reacting to Thursday's terrible events in London. The prime minister, Jiri Paroubek, condemned what he called a barbaric attack on the civilian population of the British capital, and expressed Czech solidarity in the fight against terrorism.

President Vaclav Klaus, meanwhile, described the bombings as shocking. Mr Klaus said he did not want to make light of what had happened, but warned that an exaggerated reaction might only encourage panic among Czech citizens.

But as in many European countries security was stepped up in the Czech Republic in the wake of the London bombings. Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Winkler had this to say:

"As far as the Czech Republic is concerned, security measures were improved, the protection of airports, power plants and also major shopping malls was increased.

"So far only the police are involved. But this afternoon the National Security Council is due to meet and make a decision as to whether the military should also be involved in the improvement of security in the country. My personal guess is there is no reason."

So far no Czech casualties have been reported.

"We are now in the process of collecting information from Czech families or Czech friends who have contacted our helpline where information about missing persons is collected and passed to our embassy in London, which is in contact with the casualty bureau in London.

"During the night we received around 70 calls. We have identified 28 people who have not yet been contacted by their relatives. During the night the list declined to 14, so now we have a list of 14 people who their relatives suppose might have been or were at the critical time in the centre of London."