BBC Reporter Frank Gardner Offers No Forgiveness To The Last Living Islamist That Shot Him
In 2004, BBC news reporter and former Army captain Frank Gardner was shot six times by an Islamist gang. The attack in Riyadh murdered his cameraman, Simon Cumbers. Mr Gardner is in a wheelchair. He spent a year in hospital. He endured 14 operations.
Only one member of that gang, Adel Al-Dhubaiti, is alive. But not for long. He’d just been sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.
“He is completely unrepentant. He has never said sorry. He is still in the mindset that he had when he attacked us. So forgiveness is not really an option… It’s not like this man’s parents have written to me or anyone saying, ‘Please forgive him’. No one has apologised…“I don’t want to see this guy. Why would I? What am I going to get from it? The man’s soul is dead… I gather he’s put on weight in jail – he has been eating quite well.”
The attack was calculated to kill:
It all happened quickly. A screech of tyres, a shout in Arabic, and what sounded like a gunshot. ‘Oh bloody hell,’ I thought, ‘not again.’ The memories of the last time I experienced such a cacophony back in 2004 are still vivid. I heard a loud crack and felt something sting my shoulder. I didn’t know it then, but that first bullet passed clean through, hitting the shoulder bone on the way. I ran, trying to put as much distance as possible between me and the gunman.
For a few happy seconds I thought I was actually going to make it. Then there was another loud bang and I was down on my front on the tarmac, felled by a bullet in the leg.
I realised these men were no casual, have-a-go amateurs, but a hardcore Al Qaeda terror cell.
I pleaded with them in Arabic. They responded by opening fire once more. A gunman stood over me and pumped bullets into my lower back. I don’t remember it hurting at the point of impact, just a deafening noise each time he squeezed the trigger and a sickening jolt as the bullets thudded into me.
He is haunted by it:
I have this recurring dream. I am sitting down with a group of friends when one by one they start to stand up. Nobody is paying any attention as I grip a nearby table or chair for support and slowly, unsteadily, pull myself up to a standing position. “Hey look!” I shout, “I’m standing on my own two legs!”
“So you are,” they say, or something like that, and we walk out. The sense of relief is overwhelming. In my dream, the nightmare is over. I am not paraplegic after all. The nerves in my spine have somehow miraculously healed and I am “able-bodied” once more. The wheelchair can go to someone who needs it.
But that, I am told, is not going to happen. When the newspapers kindly noticed that I was standing up for the first time to deliver a report on BBC television news in February, it was only because my legs were supported by metal callipers hidden inside my suit trousers. The callipers are essentially a pair of metal rods that run down the outside of each leg, with a lockable hinge at the knee, and four plastic brackets to strap around the thighs and calves. Without these rods, my legs are like jelly or, in the more accurate words of my daughter, “like a raggedy doll’s”. Wearing the callipers is fine but it also entails lugging around a bulky metal walking frame for support. Without this I would quickly lose my balance and topple over, which nearly happened at a BBC party when an over-enthusiastic senior colleague pinned me ever closer to the wall as she recounted an anecdote.
So. Forgiveness? Would you?
I actually learned more from the Talmud than I did the Torah, since I was already generally familiar with the Torah. The Talmud, however, has so much insight into the laws and philosophy that are the bedrock of the faith, plus essentially provides case law, which is pretty fascinating to read. I also read a great many books on Jewish thought and identity, which were incredibly helpful. What I learned and what I appreciated personally are vastly different than what was good for Gangsterland. What changed for me personally was a greater appreciation for what it has meant, historically, to be a Jew. That even if I don’t believe in every tenet of the religion per se, I am nevertheless a Jew, and with that comes history, and with that comes a certain a genetic duty. I also learned that the ancient Jews had an exceptionally nuanced understanding of human nature and were bedeviled by many of the same existential questions I still have, which made me feel pretty good, actually, because I think we all end up thinking our hopes and fears are uniquely idiotic, but here you have people in the 8th century concerned with the very things you are concerned by in the 21st. But the most important thing I learned reading all of these books was about forgiveness. Forgiving yourself. Forgiving others. Forgiving the mistakes you haven’t made yet. That was extraordinarily enlightening.
To forgive is divine. And it’s easier said than done…