‘An avalanche of people started to run’: We spoke to Aamer Anwar about the Barcelona terror attack

Glasgow Uni’s Rector was seconds away from where the van rammed into the crowd


Barcelona’s terror attack has sent shockwaves through Europe and the world.

There were at least 14 fatalities and 100 people injured, thought to be of 34 different nationalities, after a van rammed into crowds in the popular Spanish tourist destination.

The University of Glasgow’s Rector, human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, narrowly escaped being caught up in the attack and only moved from the area because it was too busy. Here, he speaks to The Tab Glasgow about what he witnessed.

Aamer Anwar is Glasgow Uni’s Rector

What exactly did you witness?

It was the afternoon, it was roasting hot and the place was heaving, just mobbed with thousands of people. I’d describe it as a sea of humanity – every race and religion represented in that crowd. I  was very lucky, I walked down Las Ramblas looking for a place to sit but it was too mobbed. My son, who fortunately was back in Glasgow, wanted a Barca football kit so I walked on. Looking for the kit possibly saved my life.

Then the crash happened seconds from where I had been – I heard screams and a crashing noise so, instinctively, I ran when everyone ran. It was an avalanche of people who started to run. There were children being pushed in prams. People were just terrified and jumping into shops and pulling the shutters down.

I thought, “I need to know what’s going on,” so I stopped in the doorway of a shop and there was a man behind me, a Bengali man who was in tears. I spoke to him in Urdu and he told me a van had driven into the crowd and seriously injured five or six people. He was hysterical.

The police instantaneously appeared – the emergency services were tremendous. The Catalan police were out in force within seconds. Like in Manchester and London, they were racing to the danger as we were running from it. There were scores of ambulances and fire engines and they quickly set up a cordon. They were going door to door and street to street to find the van driver who had escaped on foot.

The whole square mile was in lock down late into the night and it took me over five hours to get to the hotel when it should have taken five minutes as every corner was full of tourists and young people. The atmosphere was wired with people who were shattered and upset and others who had no clue of what took place.

How do you feel after the attack?

I’m shattered and exhausted. I’ve had no sleep since. I keep seeing the faces and remembering the screams of a mother who was hysterical as she couldn’t find her children. I retraced my steps yesterday and went and paid my respects at the spot where the van came to stop.

It’s slowly sinking in. Even when I was walking down Las Ramblas I could see blood on the cobblestones. I feel upset but I’m glad I went back. These people [the attackers] hate what the city and area represents – Muslim, Christian, Black, Asian, White, gay, straight, young and old – they want to sow fear and division but Barcelona like London and Manchester fought back with defiance, unity, music and love. Thousands filled the square at lunchtime yesterday. That gave me hope that yet again hatred will not succeed.

What do you think Glasgow can do in the wake of the attack?

Of course counter terror measures must be adopted but these animals change the way they attack and it is difficult to plan for that. The best way forward is targeted intelligence, but safety measures should be adopted. After the Manchester attack I was at the Hydro and the security searches weren’t very strong – we can’t go into lock down but people need to understand that, like an airport, necessary measures should be taken for our safety.

They hate our freedoms, our culture, our music, our love for life and they will never be able to destroy that.

And what do you think students at Glasgow should do?

Aamer graduating from Glasgow

I would say simple steps like check travel advice from the FCO before travelling abroad – have a spare phone charger and be alert and safe. Let your family know where you are and keep your location on so you can be found if there is an emergency.