Londoner and ex-RUC officer to tell MLAs of surviving terror

Zaoui Berezag suffered severe brain damage in the IRA bomb attack on Canary Wharf in 1996
Zaoui Berezag suffered severe brain damage in the IRA bomb attack on Canary Wharf in 1996

A woman from London whose father was blown up by the IRA and a former RUC officer who was targeted by the UDA are to tell MLAs today how they are still fighting for survival years after terrorists scarred their lives.

Rajaa Berezag, 31, from London, is the main carer for her father Zaoui Berezag, who was very seriously injured, physically and psychologically, as a result of the IRA Canary Wharf bomb in 1996, which devastated a key financial centre of London.

She will tell her story at Stormont at the annual European Day for Victims of Terrorism event and Memorial Quilt Exhibition.

Rajaa hopes her first trip to Belfast will be an opportunity to gain strength from meeting others who understand her experience.

Her family suffered huge financial strain after the bomb, losing two incomes when her mother Gemma became a full-time carer for her father. The strain contributed to her mother’s early death two years ago, aged only 57.

“I want to share my story with people who may understand,” Rajaa said. “And I want to be around people who faced this and have become stronger in the process.”

Although her 77-year-old father is settled in a care home, he lost a leg recently after a heart attack and needs somewhere that will provide much better stimulation, she said.

He was a cleaner for Midlands Bank and was in his car outside when the bomb went off very close by. His frontal lobe was seriously damaged. He did not remember her after waking up from the coma.

“That was the worst thing ever and I was only nine,” she said.

She recently attended a meeting with the Metropolitan Police to ask why her father was not evacuated.

And she is hurt by the fact that even if someone is convicted for the bomb they will only spend two years in jail.

While they have been fighting for compensation for 22 years, she said “compensation is not justice”.

“I just want to move on and work with my dad but to do that I need to make sure he is financially stable and healthy.”

Paul Conley from north Down had a very different experience, joining the RUC in 1981.

“I lost a lot of good friends in south Armagh and was almost killed myself in a land mine explosion there,” he said.

He suffered a fractured spine in the attack, the full extent of which did not emerge until years later when he was transferred back to Andersonstown where he was subjected to quite a few bomb attacks.

Moving to CID, he began causing serious damage to the UDA/UFF’s drug trade in Lisburn. They retaliated with an under-car booby-trap.

“It was all right when I was in uniform, but this was personal. All I could think about was my family. Was there anything under my wife’s car?

“I absolutely loved my job but then my back condition worsened quite dramatically as well and I had to undergo nine surgeries.”

He retired medically at 45 and is now only fit to do minor work for the Disabled Police Officers Association.

In 2006 his wife found another bomb in his garden, three years after he had retired.

For him it is important to tell his story today because he will be the first former police officer to do so.

“We were victims as well. We were the thin green line and we put ourselves out there trying to help both sides of the community despite what republicans would say.

“People from Andersonstown brought me presents at Christmas.”

There seems to be a big push on for investigations on behalf of victims of police and Army shootings, he said, however there are no inquiries for police and Army victims.

“The majority of people killed were by the republicans; if they want people to co-exist they have got say ‘it was a war that happened and that is it, put it behind us”.

Event set up after 2004 Madrid bombings

The European Day of Remembrance of Victims of Terrorism was established by the European Commission after the Madrid train bombings in 2004.

On March 11 that year Islamist terrorists killed 191 people and injured over 1,800 in the attack.

Each year since 2005 on this date, the European Commission remembers the victims of terrorist atrocities, bringing together victims, victim associations and European and member state representatives. The Stormont event today is organised by TUV leader Jim Allister with cross-party support and will this year include a memorial quilt exhibition.