OF SENSE­LESS AT­TACKS

New Straits Times - - News -

I re­mem­ber the ho­tel bombings at a sea­side re­sort in Brighton, the venue for po­lit­i­cal con­fer­ences.

The bombs that ex­ploded in a ho­tel where se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and politi­cians were stay­ing killed five peo­ple.

The tar­get was the then prime min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher.

IRA had is­sued warn­ings a few hours be­fore to in­stil fear into peo­ple and dis­rup­tion.

Dur­ing my stint at the BBC, I re­mem­ber col­lect­ing tapes and pos­ses­sions be­fore run­ning to the road­side when the of­fice re­ceived such threats.

It was not un­usual to be herded out to safety when I was shop­ping in Oxford Street, en­joy­ing a play or just trav­el­ling in the un­der­ground. But, most of the time, it was a false alarm.

Due to that, for some time, there were no rub­bish bins in the city, for they were the go-to place to leave time bombs.

The 1990s saw the spillover of the tur­moil in the Mid­dle East and the in­crease of homegrown ex­trem­ists. The targets were ran­dom as were the tim­ing of the at­tacks.

I was on my way out to univer­sity to fin­ish my dis­ser­ta­tion on July 7, 2005, when my mo­bile phone was flooded with mes­sages ad­vis­ing me to stay home as bombs had ex­ploded in Lon­don.

In a case like this, in­for­ma­tion needed to be fil­tered as some might be con­fus­ing and con­tra­dict­ing.

I fol­lowed my jour­nal­is­tic in­stincts and hopped on a bus head­ing for Edg­ware Road, one of the three places where bombs had ex­ploded.

On the bus, I met a Malaysian fam­ily on hol­i­day.

They had missed their tube in Bayswa­ter head­ing for Edg­ware Road and missed the tragedy un­fold­ing there. Think­ing of go­ing to Oxford Street, they then took a bus, but it was a bus go­ing the op­po­site di­rec­tion. It was the bus where they had met me.

In ev­ery step, they were guided away from the disas­ter.

But, it was dur­ing this in­ci­dent that I met a sur­vivor of the bomb­ing, whose story to this day gives me the chills.

Pak Agus War­coko was mak­ing his way to the of­fice of an In­done­sian bank. It was his last day. He was dressed ca­su­ally, car­ried a ruck­sack and took the tube from his house as usual.

But, pas­sen­gers were ad­vised to dis­em­bark and con­tinue the jour­ney by bus at Eus­ton sta­tion. The bus was al­ready crowded and Pak Agus had to go to the up­per deck.

He was call­ing the of­fice to say he would run late, when the phone sud­denly shot out of his grip. He looked up and saw a gap­ing hole where the roof once was. He looked down and there were peo­ple on the floor, limbs and blood every­where.

While speak­ing to him, I had to raise my voice as his hear­ing was af­fected by the ex­plo­sion at that time. In an at­tack that killed many, he had mirac­u­lously es­caped with only tem­po­rar­ily af­fected hear­ing and a scratch on a fin­ger.

That evening, af­ter leav­ing Pak Agus’s house, I found my­self in front of a moun­tain of flow­ers at King’s Cross sta­tion, where a bomb had also ex­ploded.

I stood there next to an imam and a priest, and, like those who were plac­ing flow­ers on the pave­ment, I thought that each of us were try­ing to make sense out of these sense­less at­tacks.

The vic­tims were from all walks of life, of dif­fer­ent re­li­gions and faiths, who had left their homes that morn­ing, never to re­turn.

The young mother in the re­cent tragedy was on her way to fetch her chil­dren from school. They were left there wait­ing, never to en­joy her hugs and kisses again.

Same goes for PC Keith Palmer, who was stabbed to death in the at­tack, whose smil­ing face would re­main only in pictures taken by tourists.

I read that this was not, by far, the big­gest at­tack. But, who is com­par­ing? Now, the friends and fam­i­lies of the vic­tims have a huge hole in their lives that no amount of flow­ers could heal or fill.

PIC BY A. AH­MAD TALIB

Bou­quets placed at the site in West­min­ster, Lon­don, where a man re­cently mowed down pedes­tri­ans.

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