By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
LONDON, July 11 -- Shahara Akther Islam, a slender and fashion-conscious woman of 20, set off for her job as a bank cashier last Thursday, her beloved plaid Burberry handbag slung over her shoulder.
It was to pay for such purchases that Islam -- a cosmopolitan, British-born worker and the dutiful Muslim daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants -- had decided to take a job right after high school, according to her uncle, Nazmul Hasan.
Like many other commuters in Thursday's morning rush hour, Islam never made it to work. Her travel path put her on one of three Underground trains that rolled out of King's Cross station about 8:40 a.m., each carrying a bomb that exploded about eight minutes later. A fourth bomb blew the roof off a bus about an hour after that.
The official death toll stood at 52 Monday, and at least 20 more were still missing. About half of the people whose names have been released so far by families are foreign-born, Muslim and Hindu as well as Christian -- all victims of a terrorist attack believed to have been carried out by Islamic militants.
In Washington, officials confirmed that one U.S. citizen was missing and presumed dead. The individual has not been publicly identified. Four other U.S. citizens were previously reported injured.
Police here confirmed that British officials met in London over the weekend with representatives from foreign governments to seek help in tracking down the bombers.
Meanwhile, British authorities released the first formal identification of a victim: Susan Levy, 52, a mother of two who worked in a law office. A second victim, Gladys Wundowa, 50, a cleaner from Ghana, was identified by her employer, University College London.
In a capital that is one of the world's most multicultural cities, the list of the missing was a telling cross section of nationalities.
There was Neetu Jain, a Hindu being sought desperately by her Muslim boyfriend. There was Anthony Fatayi-Williams, whose mother, Marie, flew in from Nigeria seeking news of him. "He's the love of my life, my first son," she told reporters.
There was Monika Suchocka, a Pole. There were last names such as Outoo, Matsushita, Gunoral, Ikeagwu, Yuen.
Of them all, Islam -- now presumed dead -- has received perhaps the most public attention as a young, attractive woman killed by militants from her own faith.
"They're making a big deal out of it because [it is seen as] Muslims killing Muslims," said her uncle, Hasan. Like many Muslims here, he asserted that the perpetrators of Thursday's attacks cannot call themselves true Muslims.
But if identifying the victims illustrates how Britain has taken in people of other cultures, identifying the attackers might test whether Britain has truly accepted them. Many Muslims said they were worried about a backlash against all British Muslims if the bombers are found to be Muslim -- particularly if they turn out to be from inside Britain.
"I worry about everyone, how our life will be, if al Qaeda did it," said Haydar Ali, a refugee from Iraq who was in an East London cafe watching TV coverage of the bombings. "I'm so afraid. I'm so afraid."
"God help us if the killers are local," said Azzam Tamini, head of the Muslim Association of Britain.
Some Muslim Londoners said they already felt segregated by the bombings.
"We're here to show our sympathy and also to show Muslims in support of the British people. We don't want to be marginalized," said Amal Saffour, an 18-year-old Briton of Syrian ancestry, who was attending a weekend vigil for the dead.
"We are the British people," Soha Sobhy, 22, corrected her friend. Both young women wore Muslim head scarves.
Plaistow, the neighborhood Islam hailed from in heavily Muslim East London, shows how successfully London's cultures have managed to live together, yet still maintain distinctions. This week, in the playground of a Muslim school, Arab and Russian, black and white boys kicked a soccer ball. African and Bangladeshi mothers wheeled baby buggies through the park, chatting.
Behind the counter of a store where Islam once bought candy, Rita Patel, the Hindu proprietor, remembered her as a girl who "never caused problems."
Islam's grandfather, a building contractor in Bangladesh, brought the family to East London in the 1960s. Today, residents said, the family lives in one of the larger, newer private homes in a neighborhood filled with narrow, brick, subsidized houses.
Islam shared that home with her mother, father, brother and sister. The walls of her bedroom had no political posters or banners, Hasan said. While the family discussed the war in Iraq, he said, he could not remember Islam ever taking a political stand.
The photos aired on television and in newspapers after Islam's disappearance have all showed her smiling in a turquoise Bengali tunic. In everyday life, her family said, she wore jeans.
Islam left home at 8 a.m. Thursday, clutching the Burberry bag. The family told British reporters she had contemplated skipping work that day to go to the dentist, but her mother persuaded her it would be better to report for work in the morning, then leave early.
Her subway ride would have taken about an hour.
Authorities now believe that the bombs were placed on the trains at King's Cross. For any of the victims looking out the train windows while waiting to pull out of the station, one of their last sights would have been the words, "Absolute Terror. Bold and Brilliant," on posters advertising a movie.
At about 8:50 a.m., Rashid Rashid, 25, heard a boom that woke him. He understood, but went back to sleep. "I'm from Iraq," Rashid said later that day. ''I hear explosions every day."
Tantalizingly, Hasan said, his cell phone logged a missed call from Islam's phone an hour after the blast. He might never know whether it was a technical aberration or his niece, somehow still alive.
"I think it's gotten to a point we've lost most hope," he said Sunday.
On Monday, Islam's former school soberly noted her disappearance. A school official said the head teacher met with some of the uniformed pupils. But no black ribbons, no photographs marked the bank where the missing woman worked. The family has not yet planned a vigil or memorial, Hasan said.
Outside King's Cross station, posters seeking news of the missing gave way to cards and bouquets mourning them. Men and women walked through flowers heaped knee-high to place their own bouquets.
"To all those left behind on the Piccadilly line train. Sorry we could not do more," said a card signed by three men.
"To all the innocent, decent and ordinary victims of this wicked, pointless act, rest peacefully in heaven. We will always remember you," wrote a man who signed, "Tony -- life-long Londoner."
Someone had hung a Palestinian flag above the flowers. Someone else had hung an Israeli flag nearby. A smaller banner, misspelled and almost lost in the flowers, declared:
"We Bangladeshis condemn terror and missuse in the name of Islam."
Staff writer Robin Wright in Washington and special correspondent Audrey Gillen in London contributed to this report.