A week that will be remembered in the UK for a terrorist attack in Westminster, London
The news has been exhaustively covered since it broke, shortly before three pm [Wednesday, 22 March, 2017] , I offer only a personal recollection from a distance.
I heard the news first on radio, as I was taking an afternoon bath after a rare bout of physical exercise.I stayed with the admirable BBC Radio Five reporting.
The first half hour captured a scene of confusion, interspersed with articulate reports from bystanders. At first, two separate incidents were reported. One had echoes of the attack in Nice, a deliberate attack on pedestrians. This time it was a car not a lorry, driven at the afternoon tourists and Londoners on Westminster Bridge. In a near simultaneous event there had been a loud noise nearby followed by gun shots at the corner of the parliament area which although enclosed, offers access to the hundreds of its staff and to tourists visiting the Palace of Westminster.
More news dribbled out. The MPs and Peers in the main debating chambers and other internal regions of the Palace of Westminster were in lockdown that was to last another three hours. The plan to remove the Prime Minister to a safe place had been successfully carried out. There were medical staff and volunteer helpers treating an immobile figure of a policeman. Other reports were by onlookers, who had filmed the carnage on Westminster Bridge.
A more coherent picture was being pieced together. It was one major incident. The car driver had driven from the bridge, crashed to car, and fatally stabbed a police officer (later confirmed as unarmed), and was himself fatally wounded by an armed but non-uniformed security officer.
Perhaps too shocked to move, I remained in my bath for nearly an hour, eventually getting out with feelings of despair.The story was to build up, with details still being withheld, over a period of days. The casualty numbers and fatalities increased. The terrorist was identified as a UK national, aged 52, working alone but helped by others, some quickly arrested.
As the afternoon passed, [Westminster] became seen not as the widely despised bastion of the political class, but a real place inhabited by office workers, tourists, security guards and groups of visiting schoolchildren.Last year, on this very day, Brussels was targeted by suicide bombers who killed 32 people. For a few days, it stopped being the despised “Brussels” of anti-EU rhetoric and became Brussels, scene of tragedy. More than 20 years ago I witnessed the same transformation, when a US government building in Oklahoma City was bombed, killing 168. “Federal bureaucrats” had been a hated class – until people saw them carrying their wounded and grieving for their children. Today it was “Westminster’s” turn. Not a metaphor, not a far-off citadel of wicked, scheming politicians but a real place, filled with real people – as vulnerable to an act of murderous violence as anybody else.[Jonathan Freedland: Bravery and simple humanity have shown Westminster at its best, The Independent, Thursday 23 March, 1017]