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Sajda’s story of July 7, 2005 begins like so many survivors’. “I didn’t get on my usual carriage that day,” she says
When the three would-be suicide bombers were found guilty of terrorism charges this week, Sajda Mughal felt herself shiver.
On July 7, 2005, she was among those on the Piccadilly line train passing between King’s Cross and Russell Square stations when19-year-old Germaine Lindsay detonated his bomb.
The day became known by the crude shorthand, 7/7. And Sajda was the only Muslim survivor below ground.
“To hear the men convicted this week wanted to cause something worse than 7/7 or 9/11 appals me,” she says.
“It appals me as a survivor of July 7 but also as a Muslim. What those men intended has nothing to do with Islam.”
Sajda’s story begins like so many survivors’. “I didn’t get on my usual carriage that day,” she says.
Had she got into the one behind the driver, where Lindsay was sitting with his rucksack, she might have been among the 52 people killed that morning – 27 of them on the Piccadilly line.
“I think about what happened every single day,” Sajda says, sitting in a cafe in central London, almost eight months pregnant and having just made almost exactly the same Underground journey.
“The work I do now is the only way I have to make sense of it all.”
The events literally derailed Sajda’s life.
A City high flier, at just 22 she was on her way to her job as head of recruitment at an investment bank near Liverpool Street.
After 7/7, she resigned and went to work for a women’s charity.
Last week, her achievements as director of the JAN Trust, working to prevent young people from becoming involved in extremism, won her a Community Champion Award from the Daily Mirror-backed Hope not Hate campaign.
“Her personal journey,” the judges said, “truly represents hope defeating hate.”
But as this week’s convictions illustrate, the fight continues.
Terrorists Irfan Naseer, 31, Irfan Khalid, 27, and Ashik Ali, 27, planned the worst atrocity this country has seen with eight rucksack nail bombs to be detonated by mobile phones.
Working to challenge hate all off kinds, including Islamophobia, Sajda speaks in schools, often alongside survivors of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide.
And what she hears from students demonstrates her work is vital.
“Sometimes, even after I tell my story, kids say they understand why the bombers did it.”
Before that July morning, Sajda had given little thought to violent extremism.
The daughter of Ugandan-Asian parents who escaped Idi Amin, she had been a Londoner since she was a year old.
The morning of July 7, Sajda had been running late. Wood Green, her nearest Tube station, was closed and she’d had to walk to Turnpike Lane.
Sajda shouldn’t have been on Germaine Lindsay’s train at all. “I got to the platform and jumped on the nearest carriage,” she remembers.
“I would usually have turned right to the front of the train to make sure I got a seat.”
Sajda was planning to change lines at Holborn but at 8.50am, as the train passed between King’s Cross and Russell Square, Lindsay detonated his bomb.
“There was a massive, massive bang and the train jolted,” Sajda remembers.
“People sitting down were thrown out of their seats, people standing fell over. The lights went out and emergency lights came on.
"There was black smoke filling the carriage so it was hard to breathe.
“There was no announcement and we didn’t know what was happening.
"People were shouting and screaming and banging on the doors, some were having panic attacks.
"People were trying to break the unbreakable glass but we were still encased in the tunnel.
“I was in complete shock. I thought, this is it – we are actually going to die.
"I thought we had been derailed and that the next train would hit us in a massive collision.
“I thought how I hadn’t said goodbye to my family and I hadn’t seen the world.
"There was blood everywhere. We were covered in sweat and this thick black smoke.”
For 45 minutes nothing happened, just smoke and panic. Sajda thought of her boyfriend, Ahmed, and her mum.
“It felt like hours, like a lifetime,” Sajda says. “We were suffocating with the smoke.
"Then we started to hear the police and firefighters, saying: ‘We’re coming to get you, we’re coming’.”
The rescue party led them slowly through the smoke-filled tunnel.
“Outside it was chaos. The emergency services were treating the people who were really injured but there were lots of us just walking about in shock.
"“People were staring at us. I went into the toilets at McDonald’s and realised I was black with the smoke.”
Sajda had no idea she’d been in a terrorist attack.
The news on the TV in McDonald’s was still calling it a derailment. “I tried to call work and my family but there was no signal,” she says.
“There was no transport so I started walking home really slowly. I walked for hours.”
Her mum by now believed she was dead.
By the time she got home at 2.30pm, a series of suicide bombs were being reported – and Sajda first heard that Muslims were suspected.
“I couldn’t comprehend it,” she says. “Islam teaches you to respect life, not even to harm an ant – how could you harm a human being in the name of Islam?”
Post 7/7 she saw the world change.
“I could see racism and Islamophobia growing around me,” she says.
“My mum wears a headscarf and on the Tube people wouldn’t sit next to us. There was graffiti, people would say things.”
Sajda, deeply affected, decided to leave the City and work with the JAN Trust.
“I thought if you could change the heart and mind of even one person you could start a domino effect.”
Eight years on, married to Ahmed and expecting their second child, July 7 remains at the heart of her life.
“It’s behind everything I do.
"When someone tells me their child was part of that extremist group but they managed to turn him away with our help, that drives me to work even harder.”
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