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Last Updated: Friday, 24 December 2004, 10:09 GMT
'I looked into the face of the gunman'
Six months ago BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner and his cameraman, Simon Cumbers, were attacked by militants while filming in Saudi Arabia.

Cumbers was killed outright. Gardner survived, although he is still in a wheelchair and has to have another major operation. In his first interview about the attack, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he could remember everything that happened.

Frank Gardner
Frank Gardner was conscious throughout the attack

I was conscious through the whole attack. Although I didn't see Simon running, I remember every single bit. It's absolutely vivid, like a car crash, each second spread out into minutes.

Probably the whole attack took less than ten minutes, maybe even less than five, but I remember every single thing. I looked into the face of the gunman who shot me.

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.

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.

'They wanted blood'

These were people of the same mentality as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's people in Iraq.

They are part of the insurgency in Saudi Arabia. It's not a rebellion, it's a relatively small number of people who are dedicated to violent acts to drive out westerners and try to bring down the Saudi government.

And they wanted blood, they wanted to make a statement by executing us and, as far as they were concerned, they left me for dead.

I heard them talking in Arabic as they decided what to do with me, just before they turned and fired three bullets into me.

They never mentioned my name. Although they searched my pockets they never looked for any ID, so I think the most likely thing is we were just too long in the area.

It was fortunate for them we came into the spider's lair, as it were, and we stayed too long.
Frank Gardner

We should have been there for five or ten 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'.

And 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.

The weird thing is, being shot didn't actually hurt.

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. I rolled over and felt my legs were dead logs because some of the bullets had cut through some of the spinal nerves, so I sat up, after they'd gone and cried out for help.

Simon Cumbers, freelance journalist and cameraman working for the BBC
Simon Cumbers, who worked with Frank Gardner, died in the attack

It was a long time before anyone came and when it 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.

Thank God I'd managed to get word somehow to the British Embassy who, together with the governor of Riyadh, activated a kind of rescue unit for me.

Despair and hope

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.

I'm okay; I'm in a wheelchair, which isn't great. I'm in a spinal injuries unit which is a mixture of despair and hope.

People do improve, I've improved, I've got some movement and feelings back in my legs. I've got what's called an "incomplete injury" so there is hope that I will recover my legs but it's a less than 50% chance.

Having said that, I've started walking with what's called back slabs, white casts which go rigidly down the leg and I've been walking between parallel bars so I've taken the first tottering steps but it's a pretty impractical way of getting around.

Police secure site of shooting (video grab from Saudi Al-Ekhbaria news channel )
Frank Gardner believes they stayed too long in the area

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.

I've unfortunately got another pretty nasty operation coming up in January, a six-hour operation to try to repair some of the damage to my guts, where I took most of the bullets. But I'm hoping, all things being well, I will be back on the air in March.

I must just say thank you to all the people at the BBC and in the audience who've sent fantastic letters, good wishes, I've even had a book of poems from a hermit, on an island somewhere in the Bristol Channel I think, which he dedicated to me.

There have been so many fantastic letters of support and that has definitely helped me in my recovery.


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