TRAGEDY IN IRAQ

Survivor from Iraq Madrid fan club attack recounts horror

Fan Maher Abdelkarim described the attack on a Real Madrid fan club in Iraq last week: “It was the only place we could go to forget about our problems”

Survivor from Iraq Madrid fan club attack recounts horror

Maher Abdelkarim missed Real Madrid’s final league game of the season on Saturday. Despite being a diehard fans of Los Blancos, he is still shaken by the experience of witnessing first hand the terrorist attack on the Madrid fan club in Balad last week. Maher could have been among the 14 Madrid fans who were gunned down in cold blood but he insists that the attack will not dampen his passion for football.

"A number of armed men stormed into the café and opened fire on the lads who were inside. Some of them died, others are injured", recalled Maher. Among the injured, is his neighbour Sadik Murad. "A bullet hit his right hand; they managed to take it out in hospital". Not everyone was so lucky. "Two of those who were admitted to hospital died later ", he added.

The young 23-year-old Maher, and who like 18% of those in his age bracket is without employment, would go to the café every Thursday. "Sometimes on my own, other times with my cousin Husam, to chat about the players and recent matches", he related by phone from Balad. Last Thursday, he went along with his cousin, who is also a madridista.

"We arrived at about six in the evening and found a place to sit on the right-hand side – we always go there because it’s the only place where we can forget about the problems about life in Iraq", he confessed. Life in Balad, which has a population of around 250,000, is particularly difficult. The Real Madrid ‘peña’ or supporters club was set up three years ago. It’s a café where fans can congregate to watch games on the giant TV screen and analyze moves and tactics."I’ve loved Real Madrid since I was a kid and I’ve continued my interest at the fan club", Maher said, adding that he was grateful for the show of solidarity shown by Madrid’s players in the final game of the season at Riazor when the team wore black armbands in respect for those who died. "At least that was better than our government, who remained silent", he concluded.