Belfast Telegraph

IRA's Docklands bomb was our life sentence, says daughter as 'forgotten' victim Zaoui dies

By Victoria Leonard

The daughter of a London Docklands bombing victim who has passed away 22 years after the IRA atrocity has said her family suffered a "life sentence" and described her father as a "forgotten victim" of the terrorist attack.

Rajaa Berezag's 77-year-old father Zaoui was left brain-damaged and with a metal plate in his head after the 1996 attack.

Dance teacher Rajaa, who says her 58-year-old mother Gemma committed suicide two years ago due to the stress of caring for her husband for two decades, believes her family "never got justice" after the bomb, which "cast a shadow" over their lives.

"My dad passed away in a care home in the early hours of yesterday morning. I feel very, very numb," she said.

"I've been living with the repercussions of the bomb for most of my life. The people who planted that bomb put us under a life sentence.

"We feel we lost a big part of my dad in that bomb - he didn't even remember who he was, and I had to learn about a new person in my life and become his friend, his daughter, his everything.

"A major component of my mum's suicide was the stress of dealing with dad and looking after kids by herself.

"Mum suffered all those years, Dad suffered and I suffered not having a dad around.

"I don't think we had justice for the bomb, and I don't think that will ever happen.

Rajaa, now 31, was just nine-years-old when her father, who had been working as a cleaner at the Midland Bank, was caught up in the blast.

"We felt the vibrations in our house, then I got a call from my brother who was screaming and we ran over but weren't allowed on the scene," she recalled.

"My dad was left in a vegetative state, and they said that if he did wake up he would have a life expectancy of 10 years. He had to undergo months of surgery. My dad woke up and fought it."

Mr Berezag had suffered a brain injury to his frontal lobe, affecting his memory and comprehension.

"Sometimes he forgot me," Rajaa said. "He needed 24-hour care and supervision as he was very active and always wanted to be out, so he could go missing.

"The family were the only people who could control him.

"He had a heart attack about five and a half years ago, which may have been linked to the bomb, and he had his leg amputated. After that he stopped having a lot of independence - he could talk, but he couldn't do anything on his own like showering, remembering to eat, drink or go to the toilet."

Rajaa called the experience of caring for her father "isolating".

"It was a case of adapting," she continued. "There was only a little bit of compensation.

"Mum and myself were bearing the full burden of looking after him. When he wasn't very well and going through trauma, his memories of the bomb would come back to him. He would ask, 'Why did they do it to me?'

"It was very distressing."

Rajaa admits she often wonders what life would have been like were it not for the bomb.

"I don't know any more how I feel, I used to feel angry and upset," she explained.

"I'm glad I had more time with him. I always think about what life would have been like if not for the bomb - things like who my dad was, him picking me up.

"Small everyday things that other people take for granted."

Despite his suffering, Rajaa said her dad "touched everybody's hearts".

"He was an amazing character," she said. "Even with the bad stuff he had been through, he was able to smile, and he loved to paint, draw and play cards.

"There is a massive hole in my life now he has gone, and I'm trying to fill it with lots of good memories. He taught me how to be strong and be a good person. He was an inspiration."

Libyan-supplied Semtex was used by the IRA in the Docklands bombing. Last month, it was reported that the Libyan government had rejected proposals to allow the late Colonel Gaddafi's frozen UK assets to be used to compensate IRA victims. It was also reported last month that former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was seeking to hire an envoy to lead discussions with Libya on behalf of victims.

In 2000, Crossmaglen man James McArdle, who in 1998 had been sentenced to 25 years for his role in the Docklands bombing, was freed after just two years under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.

"My mum died after campaigning for 20 years for compensation," continued Rajaa, who spoke at the European Day of Remembrance of Victims of Terrorism at Stormont in March. "We would have liked more support - the bomb cast a big shadow over my life and my family's life."

Victims' campaigner Kenny Donaldson said his South East Fermanagh Foundation support group was "deeply saddened" by Mr Berezag's death.

He stated: "The Berezags are yet another family failed by a political system which does not place innocents of terror-inflicted events as a priority. Libyan compensation has not yet been resolved, the care packages provided to the family down the years were inappropriate and insufficient and did not respond to their complex needs".

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