Daughter’s plea after Canary Wharf victim dies ‘without help’

Rajaa Berezag with her father Zaoui, who suffered severe brain damage in the Libya-IRA bomb attack in 1996
Rajaa Berezag with her father Zaoui, who suffered severe brain damage in the Libya-IRA bomb attack in 1996

A woman whose father has died after living 22 years with injuries from the Libya-IRA Canary Wharf bombing has urged government to “help people before it is too late”.

Rajaa Berezag was speaking after her father, Zaoui – the most seriously injured survivor – died on Monday without seeing the compensation from Libya which would have eased the last 22 years of his struggle to survive.

Mr Berezag, who was 77, suffered serious damage to his frontal lobe in the 1996 attack – causing him to lose all memory of his family, and leaving him needing round-the-clock care. His wife Gemma became his full-time carer until her death two years ago, causing the family to lose both incomes.

The half-tonne IRA bomb was primed with Semtex explosive, supplied by then Libyan dictator Col Gaddafi. Other Libyan attacks at the time killed German, French and American citizens, with Libya later paying out substantial damages for them all.

However, last year MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said successive UK governments had failed to press for compensation for its own citizens and called on the current government to resolve the issue – a call it firmly rejected.

But Mr Berezag’s daughter Rajaa, who was only nine when she ‘lost’ the father she knew, had a clear message for the government: “Help people before it is too late.”

She said of her parents and the compensation they sought: “They needed that care, they needed that help.”

Her father’s death did not mean she would give up the campaign.

“I will fight for his honour for the rest of my life,” she said. “I will work with the victims and people in Northern Ireland, because it is still very important to me that I keep my dad’s spirit, his legacy alive.”

There were “so many problems” that her mum had to deal with, not just looking after her husband, but also looking after her family, with many related financial pressures.

Her father – though never again the man she knew as a child – constantly strengthened her to go on.

“What an amazing life he has had,” she said. “He went peacefully in his sleep. He is happy now, he is not struggling any more. But in his life he touched so many hearts.

“He was strong, he was independent, he was a fighter that went through so much and nothing could stop him, defying the odds of everything.”

He had been predicted to live at most 10 years with his injuries.

She added: “I was just there on Monday [with him] having the best time of our lives. I think he gave me that one last moment, full of spirit right to the last breath.”

UUP peer Lord Empey, who is campaigning to secure the compensation, said he was “deeply sorry” to hear about Mr Berezag’s death. He noted that despite the recommendations of the Hart Tribunal in Northern Ireland, the government has also failed to pay compensation to victims of historic institutional abuse. “Is this a policy of letting victims die out before any justice is received?” he asked.

He added that Boris Johnson’s departure as foreign secretary this week could be “at least a short term setback for us”. He felt they were making progress in lobbying him on compensation, but said Mr Johnson’s successor may not be as aware of the issues or as committed to a new deal for Libyan victims.

Jonathan Ganesh, president of the Docklands Victims Association, said he was also “deeply saddened” to hear the news of Mr Berezag’s death.

“Zaoui was one of the people who should have benefited most from the compensation we have been fighting for,” he said.

Kenny Donaldson, director of services at victims’ group, the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF), said they too were very moved to hear about Mr Berezag’s death, having been supporters of the family.

“Zaoui and his wife Gemma before him never saw full justice delivered for the events of that terrible day and nor did they live to see Libyan compensation come for Gaddafi’s sponsoring of the terrorist outrage committed by Provisional IRA terrorists,” he said.

“How many more first generation innocent victims will go to their grave failed by a political system which pays lips service to their needs but forever is found wanting in its failure to deliver?”