Security concerns ripple across Europe in wake of terrorist attacks in London
The U.S. military presence in the United Kingdom isn’t what it once was, but Thursday’s terrorist attacks in London compelled those who remain to take added precautions to thwart any subsequent attacks.
And yet, like many Londoners, U.S. personnel in those first few hours weren’t quite sure what to make of the series of explosions that killed scores of morning commuters.
But by noontime, U.S. officials had closed military installations in the Greater London area to vehicle traffic, instituted anti-terrorism measures and relegated many daily services to the sidelines.
Still, some personnel were trying to carry on with their regular duties.
“It’s business as usual, at this point,” said a Navy officer, who asked not to be identified, from RAF West Ruislip, about 12 miles northwest of central London. For now, “that’s the mood. We’re just operating like normal.”
Or at least trying to act normal amid the chaos that characterized the aftermath of Thursday’s attacks.
Some British authorities, for example, initially thought a power surge might have been responsible for a subway explosion, according to news reports. That theory evaporated once word spread of simultaneous explosions elsewhere in the London transportation system.
As of late Thursday afternoon, the death toll stood at 40, though it was expected to climb. There have been no reports of any Americans injured in the blasts.
Most of the U.S. personnel based in London are affiliated with the Navy. Between servicemembers, Defense Department employees, dependents and retirees, the American military community in the British capital is roughly 1,000, according to John Szakas, a Navy spokesman.
As of Thursday afternoon, all U.S. Navy personnel “were present and accounted for,” said Air Force Maj. Sarah Strachan, a spokeswoman for the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.
Strachan said EUCOM had not received any specific requests from Britain — through State Department channels — for military assistance. That could range from air support and medical aid to search-and-rescue assistance.
One major issue was the logistical challenge of transporting Navy personnel from two buildings near the U.S. Embassy to their homes. Vans and buses were being requisitioned to fill that need, said Szakas, the spokesman for Commander, U.S. Naval Activities, United Kingdom.
Until it gets sorted out, Szakas said, “people are staying in their building because there is no public transportation [operating] in London.”
At U.S. Navy facilities in London, gates were temporarily closed to vehicle traffic, in part to free up security personnel for other possible duties. Efforts to reach various offices there were unsuccessful Thursday.
Roughly 12,000 Air Force members are located at bases at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall, as well as several smaller installations in the region. Base spokesmen referred all questions about the local response to the London attacks to U.S. Air Forces in Europe, based at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
USAFE released a statement late Thursday saying USAFE bases and installations are taking “prudent” measures in response to the attacks in London. The statement said those measures may include force protection changes, but such changes or measures would not be specified.
A U.S. Army Europe spokesman in Heidelberg, Germany, refused to discuss any additional security measures at Army bases on the Continent, saying that local commanders had the prerogative to assess and change security measures as they deem necessary.
The terrorist attacks raised security concerns around Europe, including heightened measures at rail stations and major airports in cities such as Rome; Berlin; Brussels, Belgium; Paris and Moscow.
The U.S. State Department Web site listed telephone numbers for people to call for information about American citizens affected by the London bombings. Those numbers are: 1-888-407-4747, toll-free from the United States, or 1-202-501-4444, on a regular toll line from outside the States and Canada.
Kent Harris in Aviano, Italy, contributed to this report.