Hager Ben Aouissi
Promenade des Anglais, Nice, 14 July 2016
86 people killed, 450 wounded
I was there with my family. We were going home after the Bastille Day fireworks, but Kenza, who was four at the time, wanted something from the sweet stall, so we stopped with my father. He went on towards a toy stall and my mother and sister kept walking. While we were weighing the sweets, I saw a truck drive on to the pavement, and I thought it was going to stop; maybe it was supplying the hotels. Then it hit two young girls at the other end of the stall. And I told myself: “Actually, it’s ploughing into us.” We couldn’t run – it was going too fast. I couldn’t go to the right – there was the sweet stall. Behind me, there were people queueing. I checked the truck was high enough, and I told myself that I had to roll underneath it with my daughter. It was my only chance to save her.
I didn’t have time to lie down, so it hit me on the left-hand side. My ear was cut, a bit of my arm, my shoulder was dislocated. When we stood up, I knew it was a terrorist attack: police were shooting at the truck. We were the only ones in the area to stand up again. No one is prepared to see what my daughter saw that evening. I was bleeding heavily from my ear, and Kenza saw this. Even today, her biggest fear is losing Mum. She had no major physical injuries; her back and thighs hurt for a few months.
After we were evacuated, and I had found my father, we went home – I didn’t want to go to hospital. I made dinner. That’s when Kenza started to throw up and wet herself. It was 3am. My ear was bleeding and it wasn’t stopping; I needed stitches, and a splint, because my shoulder was dislocated. Kenza’s father, who had come home with us, took us to hospital.
For two years, I didn’t really look after myself. I was physically there, but it was like I was dead. I was in total denial; my only concern was my daughter. But in January 2018, I started to get psychological care. Kenza also had therapy. She still can’t sleep alone – she has nightmares every night, often followed by panic attacks. The first year, it was very difficult to go to school: our route took us through a square where trucks supply a market and she would be anxious, shouting, screaming. Eventually, I managed to get a flat opposite her school. She had this constant feeling of insecurity, and had to go back into nappies. After the attack, she said: “Mum was magical, she won against the truck.” One time, she drew a truck, then the therapist burned it with her.
The attack changed everything. We don’t go out any more, we don’t go to the Promenade des Anglais. As a mother, I don’t think there is anything worse than thinking your child is going to die.
My family are Muslims and I talk a lot with Kenza so she knows the attack has nothing to do with Islam. There was a little boy at school who, during carnival, threw some confetti while saying: “Allahu akbar” and he was punished. Kenza said: “But Mum, when Grandad prays he also says ‘Allahu akbar’.” I explained that this is what the terrorists said when they did their mean acts. People should be clear: that’s not what it is to be Muslim. Religion has always been co-opted by groups with bad intentions; for them, it’s just about power – divide and rule – and we must fight this by staying united. I want to educate children about this; I changed jobs last October and now do prevention and protection work in the city’s schools.
London Underground, 7 July 2005
52 people killed, more than 700 injured
I was travelling to work in Wembley. I’d missed my stop so was on a diverted route, and I actually stood in the carriage about 18 inches away from the bomber. I remember looking at him seconds before he detonated the bomb. There was no fear, no apprehension. He knew what he was going to do and he was all right with it. There was a brilliant white flash, and suddenly I was on the floor of the tunnel. It was pure horror. I’d see something horrendous, look away, and see something worse. Something was digging in my back, and when I pulled it out it was a foot. My left leg had been taken off in the blast, and my right leg was severed at the knee joint. The pole I’d been holding had punctured my colon, rupturing my spleen and bowel, and both my arms had caught fire.
I was terrified of dying alone, so I screamed for help. I heard a deep South African voice say: “My name’s Adrian … don’t worry, I’ve been in this situation before.” (I later found out he had done national service in Austria.) Then he pushed his hand into what was left of my leg and rooted around to find the artery and pinched it shut. We stayed like that for 40 minutes, with my life literally in his hands. The bravery he showed defies logic; he helped 10 or 11 people that day. One thing I’ve always clung to is that in the space of about a minute I’d come face to face with the worst of humanity – and then the best. And I think there are more people like Adrian Heili than the terrorist.
Once I got to hospital I suffered three cardiac arrests, and died each time. I was in surgery for 19 hours on the first day, and spent 51 weeks in hospital. One of the first doctors who looked after me was a young Muslim man, and what has upset me for years is that when he finished work and got the bus home, people would have been afraid of him. He was a phenomenal doctor and a lovely person, but if he was wearing a rucksack, people would have been frightened. What the terrorist had done is make life harder for honest, hard-working Muslims. I just can’t get my head around that.
The physical injuries are a lot easier to live with than the mental trauma. I suffer from complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which has resulted in three suicide attempts.
Around the ninth anniversary, I reached a point where I wasn’t progressing with my PTSD treatment. I decided to return to the same place in the same carriage I was in on the day of the bombing. They stopped the train in the tunnel where the bomb had gone off, and I thought: “He got blown to 1,000 pieces, so there are still bits of him down there as rat food. And I’m going to go and live my life.” I didn’t feel as shackled to it any more. It was a moment of closure.
Atocha station, Madrid, 11 March 2004
191 people killed, about 1,800 wounded
My mother woke me up, because I was always late for work. I arrived at Entrevías station just as the train entered. I ran downstairs and got into the first compartment. Normally, I get on further down the platform. On the way to Atocha station, the bomb exploded. Something lifted me off the ground; I felt a very strong slap in the face, and fell. I heard a beep. There was dust. I could not open my eyes. The train was still moving. I pushed away the bodies of the people who were on top of me and threw myself off the train.
I started walking along the tracks towards Atocha. My jaw had been ripped open, and half my face was burned. You’d imagine people would be running and screaming, but there was total silence. I went back to my carriage to look for my backpack, but it was full of bodies. Already people had gone in to help. They said: “Boy, no, don’t go in there.”
I said: “Give me a phone, I want to call my family.” I called my mother, told her there had been an explosion, and then the connection went. My mother, my dad, my girlfriend and my sister came looking for me, but the police wouldn’t let them into Atocha. I started walking down the tracks again. I was dizzy, in shock. I went under a fence and then on to the street. The police stopped me, put me in a car with two other victims and took us to the hospital. In the hospital, a woman was sitting reading the newspaper. When she saw me, she covered her face with the paper. I thought: “How must I look?”
The treatment was horribly painful. They cleaned my face with a stiff brush the surgeons usually use to wash their hands. I had, among other things, crystal shards in my face. I also suffered a loss of sensitivity. Now, I touch one place on my face, but feel it in another. My eardrums are still ruptured. What kept me going was the thought that life goes on – I had my hands, my feet.
I never had nightmares. I was being trained as a firefighter, and I didn’t want anything to slow me down. When I went to the trial in 2008, I saw people who were still in very bad shape. I wished the terrorists the worst. We went when the monument was dedicated for the victims, and when flowers were laid at the railway tracks. Those are the moments when I feel depressed. I cry and cry and cry. I can hardly stop. It has to do with the energy in these places; there is so much sadness.
Then, in 2006, there was an attack on Terminal 4 of Madrid airport, where my mother worked. It was the other way around: I called, we went looking for her, and couldn’t find her.
Paloma Roque Morales, Luis’s mother
Terminal 4, Madrid–Barajas airport,
30 December 2006
2 people killed, 41 wounded
I was working in Terminal 4 on the day that [Basque separatists] ETA planted the bomb. I was pretty close to it. They evacuated us all – passengers, airport workers – and brought us out on to the tarmac. It was horrific – I couldn’t believe it. When the bomb exploded, I stopped as if I was nailed down. Everyone knew what had happened to my son; they took care of me until I could talk to my family. They were waiting outside the airport, but they weren’t allowed in; everything was shut off. But I talked to them, and reassured them that nothing had happened to me.
For me, the first attack was far worse. At eight o’clock in the morning, I woke my son, then fell back asleep. Suddenly the telephone rang: it was him and he said, wildly: “Mama, the bomb, Mama, the bomb.” For many hours I considered him lost.
After the first attack, I thought: “Terrorism is here to paralyse people, but it will not paralyse me.” But with the second attack, it did. If it happened once, and then a second time, it could happen again – to me or any other family member. At first, I was able to get on the metro and the train, but now I’m in therapy, because I had a relapse. I still work at the airport and go there every day. If I see more security people than usual, it catches up with me again. You are alarmed.
My son and I went to the trials of the train attackers, every day. I saw them sitting there, protected by safety glass. I hated them, but I hated the Spaniards much more; the people who had supplied the attackers with the dynamite. I have a lot of hatred, like my son. I do not forgive.
Breitscheidplatz Christmas market, Berlin, 19 December 2016
12 people killed, 56 injured
I met my friends Peter and Richard, and we were having a wonderful time, talking and laughing in a little glühwein house. Something funny had just happened, Peter laughed – and then we heard crashing sounds and he turned around. Then, I don’t know what happened. It was dark. I was thrown to the ground. There were things going by me and over me, and I thought: “This is serious, I could die.”
I was under rubble, and I was covered with blood. When I stood up, the house was gone – it was completely destroyed. I looked down, and there was a man lying there, and he was dead. And then I saw more bodies, and people running and screaming. In a minute, the place was filled with police. A policewoman came up to me and silently put her arm around my shoulder, as if to say: “You’re not alone, we’re here and we care.” I cannot possibly explain how important that simple action was at that moment.
Peter was dead. Later, I was told he was probably killed instantly. Richard called me – he was badly wounded and had been thrown into the street. I said: “Richard, I am here, you are not alone.” And I looked at my hand and it was hugely swollen, and this worried me because I’m a composer. When I was thrown to the ground, something had come down, and cut the veins and broken the bones in my arm. The police said: “We don’t know how you survived.” Probably it was because I was sitting in the corner.
For months afterwards, I was terrified of noises. I would burst into tears for no reason other than pure stress and terror. An organisation called Weisser Ring referred me for trauma therapy. It bothered me very much, the unfairness of what had happened. We were in the same place but I was a few inches off to the side. I had survivor’s guilt. The therapist explained: “You feel terrible, but empathy and guilt are not the same thing. Don’t allow your empathy to evolve into guilt. Feel empathetic – write Peter a letter and bury it, or do what feels helpful. And yes, think about these people.” And I do.
There is now a beautiful, very simple memorial on the steps of the Gedächtniskirche. I first visited that church in 1965, when I was singing in a college choir and we gave a concert there, standing before the altar. I’m not going to ignore what happened five decades later, 20 metres from where we stood, but I’m going to carry forward the good things that happened – things like that concert. The rest, they’re not going away, but they are in deep storage.
The freedom that comes with almost losing everything enables a different kind of thinking. Many times I have said: “I’m not going to put this off – I’d better do this now.” I want to think that, in some ways, I became a better person because of the attack. I was wounded, mentally and physically, but I now have a better understanding and love for life.
I miss Peter and think about him every day. I am more easily stressed. Loud noises – traffic and trucks – are problematic. Sometimes I want to be alone, and this was never a pattern in my life before. And sometimes I have a hard time composing music. But the attacker didn’t destroy me. He didn’t destroy Berlin. He didn’t destroy the culture. He didn’t destroy the things we love. We carry on. He lost.
Chloé De Bacco and Mahdi Zaidi
Bataclan theatre and Le Carillon bar, Paris, 13 November 2015
130 people killed, 494 wounded, at six locations
I was at the Eagles Of Death Metal concert. They’re loads of fun to see live because they put on an incredible show, and the audience ranges from 15 to 70 years old.
I suffered two bullet wounds, one in the leg and one in the arm. One of the nerves in my arm was severed and one of my arteries was affected, too. I was in a wheelchair for five months because I had major skeletal trauma and needed a transplant. I had lost about 80% of my abilities in my right hand. I spent two months in hospital, four months at a rehabilitation centre, and then over two years as a day patient. The hospital is a cocoon. When you go back home to your own bed, that’s when the serious work starts. The difficult things now are more psychological.
By the time Mahdi arrived at the rehabilitation centre, I’d been a day patient for a month, so I was familiar with the place, and I knew everyone. There were a few of us, either from the Bataclan, from the cafe terraces, or even from the Stade de France. We were all in the same boat; we’d become a symbol of something that we absolutely did not want to represent. I saw Mahdi, and told myself: “I’ll go and speak to him so that he’s not alone.” But he wasn’t very talkative that day.
You don’t want to be a “13 November couple”. We spent two years in rehabilitation, and just as some people meet at their workplace, that’s where we met. We understand each other better when it comes to certain things, but that’s not the reason we’re together. I don’t see Mahdi’s scars. I’ve been living with my scars for three years, and of course I’d rather they weren’t there, but they are.
Le Carillon was a place that my friends and I liked; it was one of the last Parisian bars where there was true social diversity.
I was shot six times in total. One Kalashnikov bullet severed my left arm, pulverising the bone and nearly severing a nerve; I had two in the stomach; one in the right elbow; one in my right hip; and one grazed my calf. Being shot stings, but you get such a rush of adrenaline that you feel completely superhuman. At the same time, there is a temptation to take a little nap, to close your eyes, so you are no longer in pain. I tried to keep an eye open, because I saw the number of bodies around me, and I knew that when the emergency services arrived they’d only save those who were conscious.
I’ve had about 15 operations, and about a year in hospital. You have to relearn primary functions, like going to the toilet alone, eating alone, sitting down alone, standing up alone, walking alone, and then you progressively regain control over your body. And then you have to relearn how to interact, because you’ve cut yourself off from people.
For a while I had a huge, Wolverine-like brace, a cane, and so, of course, everyone feels obliged to ask: “Well, what happened to you?” It was a near-daily fight to try and make sure people understood that you were not born on the fucking 13th November 2015. You were born on the 13th September 1986, before becoming a “Bataclan survivor” – even though I never would have gone to see those idiots from Eagles Of Death Metal!
I try not to let myself become governed by fear: I drank my first beer on a terrace quite early on. You realise that unconsciously you’ll always sit next to the entrance, or where you can see the exit. You’re hyper-vigilant. There are some things you can no longer do, physically – staying up all night isn’t an option. That feeling of being carefree has left you, quickly and brutally.
Chloé and I lived in buildings opposite each other in Paris at one point in time; we hung out with more or less the same kinds of people. We both underwent simultaneous operations, and had a nurse in common – so we started talking, telling each other crap jokes. There were plenty of other reasons for us to meet.
Emma Martinovic and Tarjei Jensen Bech
Utøya, Norway, 22 July 2011
69 people killed (almost half under 18), 66 wounded
I saw Anders Breivik’s police uniform, and thought he was there to help. Then he started shooting. I texted our youth leader, who said: “Just swim.” I put my ID in my bra so that they’d know who I was if I drowned, and got into the water. After that, it was just adrenaline. I swam with an 11-year-old boy on my back. We saw a helicopter and I said: “It’s OK, we’re getting help now.” I thought they’d throw down life vests, and was confused when they didn’t. Then I saw a red light from a camera and understood that it was a TV helicopter. You can watch the clip of us on YouTube.
I was lucky I just had to have bullet fragments removed from my arm. The attack was on Friday, and on Monday I went back to work. During the funerals, talking to lawyers and giving statements, something shut down inside me. Everything just became quiet. I was in a bubble, acting on autopilot for about six months, and then one day at work I broke down, screaming and crying. The emotions were like a waterfall, they just kept coming. That’s when I started speaking to a psychologist.
For a year or two after the attack, people came together. It didn’t matter if you were black or white, we stood at the main square in Oslo, and held roses, and held hands. But I think some of that love has been forgotten; there is more hate than ever. I’ve had messages saying: “Why didn’t Breivik finish the job?” There were also people who asked if I could sell them the tights I wore in Utøya; social media makes it easier for people to write strange things. I switched my accounts to private because a lot of people were sending me his manifesto. It’s frightening to see how much support Breivik’s ideas have.
I’ve been back to Utøya several times, and I can’t wait to take my kids. I always feel tired when I’m there; there are so many emotions. But he thought he could kill the island, and he didn’t; we took it back, and it’s still ours.
Tarjei Jensen Bech
I joined Norway’s Labour Youth Party when I was 13, motivated by the climate crisis. By 2011 I’d been to Utøya five times. There were workshops and discussions; you felt like you were part of something bigger than yourself.
I was asleep when I heard what, at first, I thought were fireworks. When I went outside I saw a man with a gun; there was panic in the camp and everybody was running everywhere. I ran towards the water to find protection and saw a girl I knew. She asked me if this was a rehearsal or training and I had to pinch myself on the arm to check I was awake before telling her: “This is real.”
Suddenly the shooter was on the cliff right above us; he couldn’t see us, but we could hear him breathing. He shouted something like: “It is your time to die, Marxists!”, and shot at a girl who was trying to escape. I said: “We have to run now, before he sees us.” I could hear shots being fired, then I fell and could see the water coming closer and closer. The last thing I remember was thinking: “I’m going to die.” Then it went dark.
I didn’t realise, but I’d been shot in the leg. I don’t know how long I was unconscious in the water, but when I woke up it was quiet: only the birds were singing. It was bizarre, because it felt like a beautiful moment; I was alive. Then three kids came swimming towards me, kept me warm and stopped me passing out. After a while, a boat that was picking people out of the water came closer and lifted me in. I remember we were singing Heal The World by Michael Jackson.
I attended Breivik’s trial. Our eyes met for a few seconds and I realised: I don’t have to be scared any more. I am no longer afraid of him, he is nothing to me; but I still worry about his ideas. I don’t think his motives have been discussed enough. Some don’t consider him a terrorist, just a crazy man, but the court ruled that it was a rightwing terror attack. You can see the rise of extremists – with the Sweden Democrats, Le Pen, Brexit and Trump – but we haven’t confronted these movements enough. Since becoming a deputy county mayor, I’ve received death threats, because people want me to shut up and stop being in politics. Maybe they believe in Breivik’s ideas. But I lost four or five close friends who I believe were going to do great things. Now I have to live for them.
Manchester Arena, 22 May 2017
22 people killed, more than 800 injured
I wake up missing my friend Olivia, and hating myself for causing her death, in a way. I got her the concert ticket, and went with her, so if I wasn’t her friend she’d still be alive now. At first I felt very guilty, but I’ve grown to accept that I didn’t know this was going to happen.
It’s not the killing that makes terrorists the most abominable creatures on earth, it’s the fear that they try and instil. The attack made me more scared; but at the same time it made me realise I’ve got nothing left to fear, because the worst thing that could happen already has.
I have many scars; the deepest ones are not visible, but they don’t define me.
After the attack, my family did everything they could to make my life easier. I thought: “I can’t reciprocate,” because it’s just such a massive, strange situation. It made Manchester a stronger community – it was good before, but it’s great now. Less than two weeks after the attack the city joined together at the One Love concert and Don’t Look Back In Anger became our anthem.
The thing I’m most proud of is that I went back to Manchester Arena after the attack, and I had fun there. I went to see the Arctic Monkeys, who are my current favourite band, and it was probably the greatest night of my life. Considering the other time I’d been there was the worst, it shows that there’s duality in life. Bad and good can come from the same place.
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