Tamim Iqbal: ‘It was just a matter of 30 seconds’

Tamim Iqbal spoke to ESPNcricinfo’s Mohammad Isam about ‪the events of Friday afternoon‬, when the Bangladesh team had a brush with death near one of the two mosques in Christchurch that were the target of terrorist attacks that have claimed at least 49 lives.

Let me tell you what happened before we got on the bus. It will help you understand how those two or three minutes made such a huge difference for us. Normally Mushfiq [Rahim] and Riyad bhai [Mahmudullah] want to be present during the Khudbah [sermon], which is why we want to reach the Jumm’a prayers early. The bus was scheduled to leave ‪at 1.30pm‬, but Riyad bhai had gone to the press conference. A bit of time was spent there, and after finishing the press conference, he came to the dressing room.

In the dressing room, we got engaged in a game of football. Taijul [Islam] didn’t want to lose, but the others wanted him to lose in that game. Taijul and Mushfiq were having a one-on-one game, which took up a few more minutes. These little things saved us in the end.

ALSO READ – Bangladesh team leaves Christchurch and tries to move on

We got on the bus right after that. The plan was to go to the team hotel after prayers, which is why Shree [team analyst Shrinivas Chandrasekaran] and Soumya Sarkar (both are Hindu) were with us. Since it was optional training, those who weren’t going to practice, they’d stay back at the hotel, and those who had practice, they’d come back to the ground. This was the plan.

I always sit on the sixth seat on the left. When we were getting near the mosque, everyone on my right started to see something outside the window. I saw that a body was lying on the floor. Naturally we thought either he was drunk or had fainted. So then the bus kept going, and stopped near the mosque. But everyone’s attention remained with that man lying on the ground.

While that was happening, my attention went to another man, bloodied, and about to fall down. Panic set in, at that point.

Our bus stopped in front of a car near the mosque. We saw that the bus driver was talking to a lady who was literally shaking and crying. She was saying, ‘there’s some shooting going on, don’t go, don’t go’.

Our bus driver said that these guys are going to the mosque. She replied, ‘no no no, don’t go to the mosque. It is happening in the mosque.’ She started to cry. Everyone heard and saw her, and we started to panic a little more. At that point we were about 20 yards from the mosque. Literally get out of the bus and walk to the mosque. That close. We saw some more bloodied bodies lying around the mosque.

When we saw more dead bodies, we couldn’t figure out what to do. Those wearing the namaz cap, they took it off in fear. I mean we figured out that something was going on. Those wearing punjabi [shalwar kameez] they started to wear a jacket over it. What else to do?

We then just lay down on the floor of the bus. It had been about seven or eight minutes at that stage. We still didn’t exactly know what it was but we knew that there was some kind of violence happening.

We were panicking big time. Look at me, I can’t even talk properly. We told the bus driver to get us out of there. Do something. But he wasn’t moving. Everyone started to shout at him. I was shouting at him. For those six or seven minutes, there was no police.

Then suddenly the police appeared, and the way the special forces stormed the mosque, we just lost it. We went numb. My whole body went cold. More injured and bloodied people started to come out of the mosque.

ALSO READ – ‘There’s shooting here, please save us’

That was the time we couldn’t control ourselves. We started screaming, ‘let us go!’ Some said, ‘what if they shoot us when we get out?’ Someone else said, ‘we are in danger if we are stuck in the bus’. I also felt that we would have a chance to escape if we got out of the bus. We become a big target in the bus. Where will we go? Both doors are closed.

Right at that point, for some reason, the driver took the bus 10m ahead. I don’t know why he did this. We were at breaking point at that point. Everyone lost it. We started to bang the middle door. We were kicking and punching that door. He opened the door.

When he took the bus forward, I started calling you. You thought I was joking. I was not in a position to tell you, ‘Isam bhai I am being serious.’ You heard me right? I lost my mind when I saw Mazhar [Uddin, the journalist] calling me. I didn’t know what was happening.

It was about eight minutes when he finally got out of the bus. Everyone said let’s run though the park. Someone said that we become easier targets in the park, what if the shooters just notice us there and start shooting?

The next thing that really scared us was how the police may react seeing us running with bags, etc. By that time I saw you three there [Isam and fellow journalists Utpal Shuvro and Mazhar Uddin]. I didn’t realise it then but last night, I realized how big a risk you three took.

There will be very few people on earth who will take that risk. I don’t think many close people would have turned up in that situation, like you came. I actually got relieved when I saw you guys. Then we all started to walk. By the time we had gone a fair distance, everyone started to run towards the ground.

You know, you had seen death with your own eyes. Your body goes cold. It was something we will never forget. And it is such a thing, it is getting worse with every hour we pass. I have spoken to a lot of my team-mates, and everyone is talking about it. The good thing is that everyone still has a little smile on their face. But trust me, inside, everyone is shattered.

We returned to the team hotel and went straight to Riyad bhai‘s room. We started to watch the shooter’s video. The players started to weep, like they were doing in the dressing room.

One thing for sure, Isam bhai, it will take a long time to get over. I hope the families help us. We might need counselling. I close my eyes, and I am seeing those scenes. Last night most of the cricketers slept in groups. I slept with [Mehidy Hasan] Miraz and [masseur Mohammad] Sohel bhai. I dreamt that those guys are shooting in a bike.

On our way to the airport, we were telling each other that if things had gone wrong by even a little bit, it would have been our dead bodies, not us, going home. It was just a matter of 30 seconds.

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