Tuesday 11 September 2001
One of those days, never to forget. I was at work in Brussels when I saw it all on TV, as I left through the lobby to catch the Schuman train. The Twin Towers in New York had been attacked by so-called Islamic terrorists. They hijacked two airliners and flew, suicide mode, straight into the skyscrapers. The buildings caught fire and collapsed, in a cloud of smoke and dust. Thousands died. Terrible. A friend (and he wasn’t alone) said “The news coverage made it all look like a disaster movie“.
Thursday 11 March 2004
Another day, never to forget. Again, I was work. This time my wife called to say “There’s been a massive terrorist attack on several trains around Atocha in Madrid. Big explosions. The government says it’s the Basque terrorists but it can’t be. They always claim responsibility. It must have been Islamic terrorists“. There were gaping holes in the train carriages, with people, dead, dying and injured, strewn along the railway tracks. The death toll mounted soon. Thousands were wounded. A big political row began over who did it and why.
Thursday 7 July 2005
At work again, London hit. This time a colleague first told me, “Have you heard, Mark, about London“, as she popped her head into my office. “Three explosions. Big ones. In the London underground. It’s chaos.”
I switched on the BBC web news. I watched the tragedy unfold, the rushing ambulances, the sirens, people emerging from the Underground stations, bloodstained, crying, coughing and limping. First they thought it was a power surge on the Underground. Then, about an hour later, a sick feeling came over me. The first report had come in. A suicide bomber in a bus in Tavistock Square bus. “Poor people, poor people” was all my colleague could say.
Wednesday 7 January 2015
New York, Madrid, 10 years since London – now it’s close again, Paris. A French colleague was the first to alert us. The terrorists had gone straight for the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Most of the staff were killed plus two police officers. Outrage. But it didn’t end there. There was a man-hunt across the Ile-de-France. A siege at a warehouse. Meanwhile, some crazy guy, with assault weapons, shot his way into a Hypercacher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes and took several hostages. Then the “special weapons and tactics” police stormed the store, like some armed caterpillar, all flashbangs and sub-machine gun fire.
Friday 13 November 2015
Paris again. Bad. Bad. A Friday, mid-evening. We were just watching a film, when news broke in that bombs had gone off at Stade de France. There had been a panic evacuation. More news flashes told of terrorists on the rampage, shooting blameless people in restaurants and bars. Victims had no chance to escape: ruthless killing, terrible suffering. Then there was a hold-up in the Bataclan theatre and we watched on TV the build up to the police raid. They said at first there were a hundred dead, people caught in the cross-fire.
I was due to go to a meeting in Paris the following Tuesday. The meeting went ahead. There were police all over the city. Soon it became clear that the terrorists had links to Brussels. I got back to Brussels just as the military lockdown was made. “Do not congregate” the authorities had said. There were soldiers with guns, and armoured vehicles, on the streets. We cancelled an event we were organising in town that Sunday. Four days under military control.
Tuesday 22 March 2016
Bombs, now. Deadly bombs, in Brussels. Again, my wife was the first to tell me, by phone text. I was just leaving my hotel in Paris for a meeting. Zaventem airport was hit. What a mess. This is out of control. By then I had started to receive messages from the security updates.
“Two explosions have been reported at Zaventem airport at around 8h this morning. The origin of the explosions is still unknown. The airport has been evacuated. All flights are currently cancelled. We will keep you informed.”
Once at the meeting, my wife had told me there had been an explosion in the Maelbeck metro station. Right under my office block. As the meeting began, I was finding it hard to concentrate. My neighbour kept nudging me, pointing to his computer screen. People staggering out of the metro station. On the floor, shocked, bloody. Police officers, police cars, firemen, all in a jumble of activity. Sirens. Stupefaction. Then I received another security update:
“Another incident has been reported in metro Maelbeck. Some buildings have been evacuated as precautionary measures. If you are not concerned, please stay for the time being in your office until further notice.”
Minutes later my boss sent a reassuring SMS. Everyone was OK in my department. But the news of the incident worsened. Many dead, many injured.
I relived the day’s events with my colleagues when I got back to work. They said the building had shuddered. There had been horror and smoke on the street, confusion inside. Eventually the evacuation of the building had been announced but panic had struck outside when a policeman shouted “Run, run, disperse, disperse. There may still be terrorist at large.”
More coverage, more distress. A colleague wisely advised me “Don’t watch the TV. The pictures will stay in your mind. That is what makes you afraid“. But there is one image, each morning, I cannot see without thinking of the poor victims. The “M” sign of the Maelbeck metro station, where so many innocent people died.
Thursday 14 July 2016
A tragic Bastille Day. France just took another massive, cruel blow. A mad man has driven an articulated lorry down the promenade in Nice, trying to hit as many as he could. Dead and injured littered on the ground. New modus operandi. Bombs and Kalashnikovs are no longer enough for them. Now their weapons are made from the mundane. There’s talk of a “lone wolf”, few clear links to a band.
Monday 19 December 2016
Another killer lorry. This time, Berlin. A Christmas market, people mown down, smashed stands, wrecked lives. We sent a message to friends who live in the city. All OK. Assuming friends must be OK is just not enough. There’s a need to know loved ones are safe.
Wednesday 22 March 2017
News travels fast. A colleague picked up the Westminster attacks as soon as they were on internet. It seemed at first like an attack on the Houses of Parliament. Reports came in of a car knocking down people on Westminster Bridge. Several fatalities. Then a security guard was stabbed to death by the knife-wielding lunatic. He was taken down by the police. MPs were locked up for safety in the buildings. An audacious, sickening attack.
Monday 22 May 2017
We didn’t catch the news from Manchester till the morning after. A lone assassin. At the end of an Ariana Grande concert. Back to bombs. It seems the terrorist put bolts and nails in the bomb, to maim as many as he could. Such a vile act. Youngsters and parents caught up in absolute horror. My niece lives and works in the city. As soon as I knew, I messaged “Let me know you’re all OK. It’s a mad world. Hugs”. She replied straight away “Hi, we’re safe. Thanks. Such awful news. Right next to Dan’s office and across the road from mine. X”. Parties campaigning in the UK elections called a halt.
Saturday 3 June 2017
UK, again. Another lorry, on London Bridge, ploughing through pedestrians and bystanders. Then the terrorists ran amok with knives in Borough Market. Terrifying. They cut and slashed at those in their path. Lucky ones dived for cover in shops and bars. We saw it first on the late Saturday news. It seems the police got there fast. Shot three terrorists dead. Tragic stories emerged of young people from all over the world caught up in the horror. UK democracy under stress, five days before the general election.
Thursday 17 August 2017
First news of the Barcelona attack came, on holiday, on the Telediario at 3 p.m. Just like Nice, Berlin and London, a van driving full speed down the crowded Ramblas, leaving bodies strewn like ragdolls on the ground. Panic, grief. The driver-assassin had escaped and the hunt took place on live TV in front of our eyes. Witnesses told of the terror, the callousness of the perpetrators. It didn’t stop there, the manhunt spread over Cataluña. And then, in the middle of the night, Cambrils added its name to the lengthening list of terrorism venues. What has to happen for us to call a halt to this madness?
Monday 20 November 2017
At work, again, when my wife called me. Another new terrorist alert in Brussels, in various points of the city. “There’s been a car chase across town. An attack in Gare Centrale. Again” she said, phone in hand, watching the TV. “And there’s another problem in the Heysel area. The Atomium is cordoned off. Witnesses are saying the police have trapped the terrorists inside, with hostages“.
Then she went silent.
“What’s the matter?” I pleaded.
“Oh my God!” she spluttered, “Oh my God!”
Another silence, and then.
“There’s been a huge explosion“.
The Atomium had fallen down.