Shot by al-Qaeda

The Times of London carries an excerpt from a most dramatic account by BBC correspondent Frank Gardner of his shooting by al-Qaeda thugs in Saudi Arabia.

“No! Don’t do this!” I shouted instinctively in Arabic.

He pulled out a long-barrelled pistol. Oh my God, I thought, this cannot be happening.

I ran for my life, sprinting away from our van and into the deeply conservative quarter of Al-Suwaidi. There was a loud crack behind me and I felt something sting my shoulder. I didn’t know it then but the bullet passed clean through, hitting the shoulder bone on the way….

Instead of the neatly arranged headdresses with a sharp crease in the middle worn by ordinary urban Saudis, these men wore theirs wound tightly round their foreheads like a bandage. It was the isaaba, the dress worn by jihadi fighters who consider they are about to go into battle, the same style worn by the 9/11 suicidal hijackers in their video testimonies and by Mohammed Siddique Khan, the leader of the July 7 London bombers, in his posthumously released video warning to the West.

I realised then that I was doomed. These men were no casual, have-a-go amateurs; they were the real thing, a hardcore Al-Qaeda terror cell bent on attacking their government, killing westerners and “cleansing the Arabian peninsula of infidels”.

In that instant I glimpsed faces driven by pure hatred and fanaticism. I pleaded with them in Arabic, as so many hostages have done in Iraq, while they held a brief discussion as to what to do with me. It did not take long. They responded to my pleas by opening fire once more….

For the past few years I had tried hard to explain the complexities of the Middle East and the thinking behind the Al-Qaeda phenomenon to western and international audiences. And this was my reward? A bunch of bullets in the guts from men who had convinced themselves they were killing in the cause of Islam. It just did not seem right….