As the dust settles after Tuesday’s brutal attacks in Brussels and the threat of further attacks looms heavily over a continent in mourning, Londoners are on edge.
My walk home crosses Vauxhall Bridge treats me to one of the most underrated views in the capital. From the middle you can see the Palace of Westminster and beyond to the London Eye, stretching as far as the financial district in the east.
It’s a view which disperses the stress of a commute. As the river winds its way out of the city, it takes with it the baggage of each day in the office. It makes me proud to live in London.
Last night as I followed the pavement across the bridge and around the towering MI6 intelligence base which sits on the south bank, two police cars screamed to a halt, sirens shrieking, lights blazing.
Officers from the first vehicle got out to inspect the scene, and I turned the corner expecting blue tape, handcuffs, suspicious packages and to witness some full-blown criminality brought to justice.
But there was no big threat. Just a bicycle. Tied up on railings where bicycles are banned. Not to mention it was next to a transport and security hub deemed threatened by terrorist activity.
The officers dawdled around a bit, inspected the offending bicycle and then left. I overheard the muttering, “Well, I suppose it’s not supposed to be parked there.”
The incident was a non-event, but it came just hours after suicide bombers attacked the center of Brussels, and it is evident that shockwaves are spreading through the capitals of Europe. London has the jitters.
On Wednesday morning Tube stations suffered a number of false alarms and electrical failures, and security services leapt into action, wary of yet more violence.
Twitter was jumpy: “They have just closed the #tube at Great Portland st . Blue tape and police. I hope it’s just a false alarm,” one user posted.
“Just got to Tottenham Court Road tube station and all the alarms are going off with announcements telling everyone to leave immediately,” wrote another.
London’s terror threat remains “severe,” which means an attack is highly likely. It hasn’t changed since yesterday, but the palpable tension in public places has. There are reports that undercover troops have been put in place to monitor “combat indicators,” and the prime minister has announced a boost in armed police guarding public spaces.
In the House of Commons, Home Secretary Theresa May once again reeled off the impressive number of terror attacks British intelligence agencies have foiled in the past 18 months (seven). But Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) issued its own warning in the wake of the Brussels bombings, to inflict more “spectacular” attacks on capital cities.
The Brussels bombings came just days after a major counter-terror operation in the city. The raid targeted the masterminds of the Paris attacks. It left four police officers injured and one suspect dead, and the Brussels bombing shows capability to organize an attack on the hoof.
As in the days which followed the deadly attacks in Paris last November, security services are on high-alert, responding to each and every threat, be it a forgotten briefcase or an intruding bicycle. Commuters are vigilant, and wary of one another. London is a city which feels uncomfortable in its own skin.
Poppy Bollard, Online Journalist at RT – @PoppyBullard