You can't keep me off air, says shot BBC man

You can't keep me off air, says shot BBC man
By Colin Freeman
(Filed: 26/12/2004)

A BBC journalist who was paralysed after being shot six times by terrorists in Saudi Arabia has vowed to return to work early next year, declaring: "You can't keep me off air."

In his first interview since the shooting in June, Frank Gardner, the corporation's security correspondent, said on the BBC's Today programme that the trauma of being riddled with bullets at point-blank range had affected only his body, not his mind.

"The weird thing is, being shot didn't actually hurt," said Mr Gardner, whose cameraman Simon Cumbers, 36, was killed in the same attack.

"It was a traumatic experience, but when I lay there – I didn't know it at the time, but I had five bullets in me – I was wide awake and conscious and thinking, 'Crikey, I've taken a lot of hits here, but I'm still alive, so I've got to stay alive for the sake of my family.' So I willed myself to stay on.

"Fortunately they didn't get to my brain; that remained intact. They didn't get to my head, thank God, I've had no flashbacks, post-traumatic stress disorder or waking up sweating in the night – I've had none of that. I've been very lucky."

Mr Gardner, a fluent Arabic speaker and an expert on al-Qa'eda, is currently confined to a wheelchair and is receiving treatment at a special spinal injuries unit.

He is learning to walk again through the use of special rigid leg casts, although his chances of being fully mobile are less than 50 per cent.

He said that he could remember every second of the attack, which took place as he and Mr Cumbers attempted to film the Riyadh house of an al-Qa'eda supporter who had been shot by Saudi security forces.

"I saw in the faces of the gunmen absolute hatred; they had pressed the button of violence and nothing I tried to say to them in Arabic was going to dissuade them," Mr Gardner said.

"As far as they were concerned I was a heathen, a Western infidel who had come into their area and this was an opportunity to execute a Westerner. It was quite terrifying, as you can imagine.

"These people were hard-core militants, I don't think it would be fair to say they were paid-up members of al-Qaeda, but they were certainly sympathisers. These were people of the same mentality as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's people in Iraq."

After the gunmen drove off, Mr Gardner began crying out desperately for help, already aware that his legs seemed paralysed. To his dismay, locals in the western Suweidi district – reputed to harbour supporters of Osama bin Laden – appeared either unwilling or simply scared to be seen helping a Westerner.

Television footage of him lying injured in a pool of blood was later broadcast in Britain, highlighted vividly the agonising delays that he had to face before help arrived.

"It was a long time before anyone came and when they did they weren't any help at all. The local people – very uncharacteristically for Muslims, who are normally fantastically good at helping people in trouble – stood around and just discussed me.

"Eventually the crowd built up, and the police turned up, no ambulance, and they bundled me in a police car and took me off on an agonising journey to a pretty ropey hospital. By the time they got me to the operating theatre I was screaming for painkillers, which they gave me, then I went under the knife."

Mr Gardner said that he believed that if he had not managed to get an SOS message to the British Embassy, he was sure he would have died at the hands of inexperienced surgeons.

"They sent a very highly-qualified team of specialists from the King Faisal Hospital to rescue me, essentially, in this hospital and they said, 'Right, stop what you're doing, we're taking over.' I think if they hadn't come I would've been dead about an hour later."

Ironically, said Mr Gardner, Arab contacts later told him that his would-be assassins regretted shooting him.

"I am one of the few people who have tried to bother to explain what al-Qa'eda is about, and now they have taken me off the air for several months," he said.

"Initially their supporters thought it was great that they had hit the BBC because they got lots of publicity, but once they found out it was me they realised it was a bit of an own goal."

He admitted, though, that he had made a mistake by spending too long in the area they were filming in.

"We should have been there for five or 10 minutes; we were there for 30. I think somebody spotted us out of a window, phoned the militants and said, 'Hey, there are a couple of infidels down there filming. If you're quick, you'll get them'.

"They mounted a very professional operation. They cornered us with two cars, they hemmed us in, there was no way out. It was fortunate for them we came into the spider's lair, as it were, and we stayed too long."

Saudi officials believe that the gunmen may have been among those killed or captured during police operations later in June, during which they claim to have found a car used in the assassination attempt.

Frank Gardner - Click Here
if there wasn't any oil involved i would be happy for the arab nations to wallow in their medieval living history project. :evil:

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