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Gary Younge
What al-Qaida did to us

· My boss reminded me that I needed to go to the embassy cashier to pick up my allowance - I was supposed to travel to Accra, in Ghana, for a conference for American embassy computer managers in Africa.

I walked to the cashier's office. It was a Friday, and on Friday the Americans go on safari, so they were queueing up for money. Kenyans were queueing up for money as well.

The lady who was banking the money spotted me. Her name was Lucy. She said to jump the queue. I got the money and went back to my office. All those people I left in the queue died, including the cashier.

I was sending my last email when I heard the first explosion. It came in like a tremor: "Der-der-der-der-der."

People were rushing to the window, but I thought I would send the email before I went to look. Then I left my office, heading for the open space, and I was just by a pillar next to the computer room when the killer explosion came, and that's when my life changed.

[George was knocked unconscious but not badly injured. When he came round, he managed to crawl out of the building to safety.]

As I was crawling I could feel bodies, and I remember one of these was a very good friend, a colleague, we used to go out every Friday. I reached out for him and held him like this [cradling his arms]. But I was holding just a head. This was a head that was making noise. The rest of the body was not there.

I felt like it was not real. When you were in that building you were made to believe that it was the safest place. The Kenyans working there felt this was an embassy - nothing could happen to you while you were inside.

I was shaken, and I was so angry at what I had been made to believe. I was angry at myself. I didn't want to be alive because I thought that the people who died would be more peaceful than people like us.

I thought that if I was alive, I must be fractured all over, and I did not want to remain in that pain. Also, I did not know what I had done wrong, what we had done wrong, that would make somebody do such a thing to us.

And I thought somebody would warn us. We went through bomb drills, fire drills, but when the real thing happened, everyone was taken by surprise, including the Marine guards who were on duty.

We were so naive. We didn't know how to react. The colleagues who died, the majority of them were the ones who went to the window to see what was happening. I was also going towards the window.

The killer explosion came when everybody was at the window.

What happened changed my life totally. When I leave home, I leave home knowing that I might not see tomorrow, as long as I work in the American embassy.

We had something on Fridays called "TGIF" - Thank God It's Friday. We all used to go out and have fun with other colleagues at the embassy. One of them was this guy whose head was separated from his body. This guy had had things planned and then he was no more.

I'm more afraid, as a person. I'm not afraid to die. But maybe when some wind closes the door, and I hear a small bang, I get scared.

I tend to go out of Nairobi more. I go to see my parents in the countryside, where it's quiet and peaceful and there's nobody who can harm you.

I still work at the embassy, as regional information systems manager. My family have asked me to quit the job, but somehow I've realised there's no safe place.

And the thing I like about the embassy is that we keep changing our systems every year - there's no company in Nairobi that can afford to do that - so we keep getting new things.

I feel more religious. When I survived, I asked myself why I survived, at each and every stage - like leaving the cashier's office early.

I started asking myself: "Why did I get out? what's special in me?" Since then, I have been taking Christianity very seriously.

I have two boys. One was born after the bomb, George jr. Every step I make now is towards them, because I know that I can go at any time. I had to redo my will. I had to start saving heavily. Every property I have now is in their name, so if something happens they will be safe.

I wanted to find out exactly what would make somebody hate a person, like what had happened. Why would somebody just kill?

Then I went to New York, where I testified during the trial of the people who bombed the embassy.

[In May 2001, two men were convicted of murder in connection with the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Two others were found guilty of taking part in the conspiracy.]

In New York, we stayed at a hotel in the World Trade Centre. Immediately after we came home, this building also was destroyed.

I wish I could talk to one of them [the bombers]. When I was in court, I really wanted to. How they behaved in court made me more angry. There were four of them, sitting [facing], just like you and me.

They looked at us, and they made faces, they grinned. It was like, whatever they did, they didn't feel anything whatsoever. You wonder if they have any feelings at all.

I used to love action films, Sylvester Stallone, but what happened made me feel that whatever is happening out there is real.

It reminds me of what I saw. The real blood, and people cut into pieces.

Now I only watch movies based on true stories, and comedies.
Jeevan Vasagar

Zainab Abbas: Mother of Hashim Abbas, hotel employee killed in a car bomb at the Sheraton in Karachi, Pakistan, May 8 2002. Death toll: 14 men, including two Pakistani naval officers, 11 French engineers on a bus

· Hashim was my first-born. He was in the hotel's housekeeping department. His age was 27. He was the only one working to support the family at that time, because his father was unwell. Sikander, my second son, was going to school then because Hashim refused to let him work. He said: "Let me be the worker, and let him study. He is a good boy; let him finish his education." This was typical of Hashim, he was very generous and very responsible. After he was killed, Sikander had to leave school to take a job in the hotel, but he earns only half as much as Hashim earned and he doesn't get any tips. My husband also died shortly after Hashim. He had been an invalid for many years, but he became much weaker after Hashim died. I am sure the shock of losing Hashim broke both of our hearts.

The morning my son was killed, he arose early to go to the hotel. I said to him, "Don't go anywhere today, relax, you are on holiday," But, Hashim said, "No, I have some wages to collect, so I must go." The next thing, we saw on the news that there had been a bomb at the hotel, and immediately I rushed there to see what had happened to my son. Outside the hotel, there was a big crowd, but when I told the guards that I was the mother of Hashim, they let me pass through. It was a terrible scene. There was glass and wreckage all over the road and the hotel looked as if it had been on fire. Then they took me to the hotel manager, and he said, "Don't worry Hashim is fine, he is injured, but he is alive." But I sensed that something was wrong, and I lay down on the hotel floor and wailed out of terror for my son.

The hotel people brought me home and told me to wait for news of Hashim, and again they said that he was fine. So then I sent my son-in-law to the hospital to find out what had happened to my son, and he returned two hours later with his body. We don't know whether Hashim died immediately, but I suppose that he did, thank God, because his legs had been blown away and his head and chest were badly damaged.

Who can say why someone would want to do such a terrible thing to innocent people. Only the criminals themselves can know. But I am not interested in why they wanted to kill, because Hashim was not the target of this bomb, the foreigners were the targets. I am not interested in politics of this kind, nobody cares about these things, they are for politicians and criminals. Honest, hard-working people with families to feed do not think about these things. Only sometimes I have thought about the mothers of the Frenchmen who died with my son. They must have suffered as I suffer because mothers are the same all over the world, and only those who have suffered this grief know what it is to lose your son.

Since Hashim died I have looked on the world with sorrowful eyes. I used to be a very happy woman; but now I am terrified all the time. I have changed so much. I see the bad in everything. Only the bad. In the weeks after Hashim was killed, perhaps I was a little mad. I was terrified that Sikander would also be killed, and when he started working at the hotel I used to follow him there, and sit outside the main door, waiting for him to finish his work. All day I used to sit outside in the sun, until one day the hotel manager came to me and said, "Auntie, enough, you cannot sit there all day." And then he installed a telephone in my house so that I could call Sikander at his work and know that he is safe.

Sikander tells me I should relax. In fact, many people say that Karachi is safer now than it was 10 years ago, when we had a lot of crimes and shooting. But I cannot speak of these things, because I never thought about danger until Hashim was killed. Now, I am always going to visit Hashim's grave, to pray for the soul of my eldest son, and that God will spare the life of my second son, Sikander. Four or five months ago, I had a terrible scare when some people fired on the American consulate, which is close to the hotel. I phoned the hotel, wailing and crying, asking them what had happened to Sikander, until they brought him to the phone and told me to be calm.

I feel such hatred towards the men who killed my son. What made them commit this evil act? It was an act of savagery. Imagine! They chose to kill men who were working hard to support their families, men like my son, men like these French people. These killers must all be executed. But, God willing, even if they are not made to suffer now, they will suffer on the Day of Judgment. Murderers do not go to heaven; they go to hell. British and French people may not be Muslim, but they are still human, and all mankind was made by Allah. Anyone who kills Allah's children will go to hell.

If you go to the hotel, you will see that they have put up a picture of Hashim in the reception, which was a good thing. My son was a good worker and he was well-respected. He never caused anyone any trouble. I am happy that the hotel has honoured him. But the government has never done anything. They have given us no compensation for my son's death, and not even one government official has come here to offer his condolences. Of course they were very nervous about the foreigners being killed in Pakistan and also the naval officers because they were powerful men. But, no, they do not care at all about Hashim. He was not involved in their politics. But because of his death many people have suffered.
James Astill

Rick King: Owner of a general store and assistant fire chief, Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Here, one of the four US aeroplanes hijacked on September 11 2001 - United Airlines flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco - crashed. Death toll: 44, including four hijackers.

· I was talking on the phone to my sister Jody about the twin towers and the Pentagon being hit, when she said: "Rick I hear a plane ... Rick it's loud and low and it sounds like a jet."

I ran outside and immediately I could hear the engines and the roaring, but I never saw it. And then it hit. I saw this huge fireball going up in the sky and then a mushroom cloud. It shook the whole town. I said, "Jody I got to go."

So my first thought was, "What the hell is going on? Planes are just falling out of the sky." But my second was the panic of wondering what was going to happen now. We don't train for commercial airline crashes in Shanksville. With a volunteer force you have to go with who is available and since it happened on a weekday there were four people here - the rest were at work. We just followed the smoke.

I remember getting out of the fire engine and thinking where is it? There were no wings, no tail section, no nose. Nothing that looked like a plane. Just small balls of metal you could fit in your hand, pieces of wiring, insulation and mail. Some trees were smouldering and I started to hope that maybe it was a courier plane rather than a passenger jet. Then I started walking down this trail of singed wooded area and saw a piece of charred human flesh. Then I started to see more of that and more metal.

By the time I came back the FBI and the Pennsylvania state police were there and they took over. It was a crime scene so they had to stop people walking around. They told us first that there were 45 passengers on board, although it later changed to 44. That's when we knew what we were dealing with. It was good to see them take charge.

That day has changed my life. I don't know exactly how yet. I still raise my family in the same way. But another second and it would have landed on our town. It makes you look at life and appreciate it more. I've met the president, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. I sat in the first lady's box at the Kennedy Centre.

On the other hand, it makes you angry that there are people in the world who hate us so much that they would want to kill innocent civilians. I worry about our country but I don't worry on a daily basis about anything like that happening again around here. I know Shanksville wasn't the target that day.

The town hasn't changed much in many ways. But there is an impact that a huge event like that will have on a small community like this. New York is New York - it's a big city and it'll get through it. But Shanksville? There's more traffic with people coming to look at the site and visitors we never used to have, but nobody's putting locks on their doors.

But you won't find anyone around here trying to cash in on it. It's still a great place to raise children. We don't have any crime or a huge drug problem. There are 247 people in this town and four churches so that should tell you something.

We got to know all of the victims' families, some of them on a very personal basis. But it's an awesome responsibility for a small town. Politically not much has changed. I supported Bush from the beginning and for the most part the country is behind him. I don't like the fact that some believe this war in Iraq is the US against the Muslims. It's not that. We are the most giving nation in the world and we do more for the poor than anybody else. We're not a country that goes into other countries to attack them, but goes to war for the defence of others. I wish the rest of the world would see that.

People do talk politics when they come into my store. We agree and disagree and put our two cents in. Some people think we're in a mess because of this war and others of us support it. I'd say there's definitely more of that kind of talk now. But then there wasn't a whole lot to talk about before.
Gary Younge

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