Almost 140 years ago, a wave of bombs exploded in London. Though they killed a relatively small number of people, they attracted a lot of attention.
The work of Irish extremists hoping to shift public opinion and political thinking about the future of their nation lasted several years. In October 1883, one of their bloodiest attacks injured 40 people on a tube train pulling out of Paddington station. Other targets included the offices of the The Times newspaper, Nelson’s Column, the Tower of London and Scotland Yard.
Throughout the decade, there were other bombings elsewhere in Europe perpetrated by various extremist groups and hitting theatres, opera houses, the French parliament and streetside cafes. In 1920, Wall Street itself was bombed. The wave of attacks prompted concern about new technologies, such as timers and dynamite, which was said to be “cheap as soap and common as sugar”, and drew debate as to how to protect cities and mass transit systems from violence.
Nearly 150 years later, a spate of recent attacks in major European cities have led to similar warnings. Experts tell us how easy it is to construct a viable explosive device with instructions from the internet, and warn of how we can, or can’t, protect our public spaces from the new tactic of using vehicles as murderous rams. After a truck was driven into a crowd at a Christmas market in Berlin last year, the police chief, Klaus Kandt, pointed out that with so many potential targets – 2,500 such markets in Germany and 60 in the city alone – it was impossible to reduce the risk to zero.