Australian student tells of his flotilla ordeal PAUL MCGEOUGH, ISTANBUL

Israel boards Gaza aid ship

Israeli forces have taken over the Irish aid-ship Rachel Corrie bound for Gaza.

THE challenge for 20-year-old Ahmed Luqman Talib was to follow the trail of blood.
Blacking out several times as his captors forced him to drag himself up a flight of stairs, pushing and kicking him along the way, the Gold Coast student finally fell through a door leading to the top deck of the Mavi Marmara, the protest ship on which Israeli commandos killed nine foreign activists during a dawn attack last Monday.

The trail of blood led to a ladder, up which he was made to haul himself, to a position from which helicopters were evacuating the injured. But he was given no assistance despite two gunshot wounds in his right leg.

Ahmed Luqman Talib (centre) recovers from gunshot wounds in an Istanbul hospital. Picture: Kate Geraghty

Mr Talib had found himself at the sharp end of his deferred course of study at Bond University – international relations.

With demands around the world for an inquiry into the attack on a flotilla that was attempting to break the Israeli siege of Gaza, it seems likely their claims and Israeli counter-claims alleging protester violence will be tested forensically.

The first draft of Mr Talib's testimony – and that of his Australian wife and his sister who also were on the boat – accuses the Israeli soldiers of cruel and callous conduct.
From his bed in an Istanbul hospital, he spoke of the moment when he thought he might not survive.

"I looked down and my legs were drowning in blood. I was getting weaker; it was difficult to breathe," he said. A devout Muslim whose family migrated from Sri Lanka to Australia in 1995, Mr Talib recalled taking a moment to pray. "I said it quietly – to myself. Then I worried maybe that was not enough, so I said it again – this time out loud."

After what they have been through, Mr Talib and his wife, 21-year-old Jerry Campbell, could reasonably opt to cloister themselves in everyday life on the Gold Coast; and in the case of Mr Talib's 18-year-old sister Maryam, to retreat to the family home in Kuwait. The family moved on from Australia in 2000. But in 2007 Mr Talib returned to Queensland where he married Ms Campbell, who is almost three months pregnant with their first child.

Despite setting out in late May with an expectation that the flotilla was almost a Mediterranean cruise, the trio has emerged from the experience seemingly fearless.

"It was beautiful," Maryam said. "The atmosphere . . . was wonderful . . . there was a great sense of spiritual connection. I had never felt this kind of emotion before."
Maryam, a second-year pharmacy student, and Ms Campbell, in her second year of nursing studies, were assigned to first-aid duties on the Saturday before the incident. All three were oblivious to Israeli warnings that put the flotilla on full alert late Sunday evening.

Recounting the moment he was shot, Mr Talib said: "I saw a man who nearly got shot – I could see the red dot of the laser weapon sights on his knee, but he moved in time.

"I felt it slice through my leg – blood was squirting from my right leg and then a second bullet sliced across, just above my knee. I was still standing, but my leg jerked up in the air and froze like that – for a time it was paralysed. With my weight on the good leg I tried to put it down – but it wouldn't move.

"I couldn't believe I had been hit, but that's how it looked – bullets, holes and blood."
He attempted to find his way downstairs to the first-aid post, which by then was chaotic. But he collapsed and when others carried him in for treatment, first his sister and then his wife observed that "he seemed to be OK", tending to others they thought were in greater need.

At this stage two of the dead had been brought in and Ms Campbell was helping to stabilise a man who had been shot five times – "he had a lot of holes in him, but none of his main arteries had been hit".

The women told of the constant screaming of the injured; of slipping on bloody floors; of difficulty identifying their colleagues who were yelling for aid.
Ms Campbell said: "We had no pain-killers, no instruments to extract bullets. But we had heaps of gauze so we were able to apply pressure bandages to stop or slow the bleeding. The heat was intense – we were sweating as first we had 10 people to treat and then 20."

After the Israelis had taken control, they assembled those on board on an open deck and, later in a big cabin area. Ms Campbell and Maryam accused the Israelis of not feeding them and not allowing the women to give water to the men whose hands were tied with plastic ties. They also accused them of confiscating camera memory cards as they went through baggage – and levelling threats against anyone who may have concealed data discs on their bodies.

Mr Talib said he was put into a carry frame which the commandos set about dragging up stairs. He was in great pain and bleeding, but halfway up he was tipped out and told: "You have one healthy leg – walk up."

The trio accused the Israeli commandos of handcuffing Mr Talib to his hospital bed – but removing the cuffs before he was visited by Australian diplomats — and
denying him access to a lawyer as they attempted to interrogate him. They also said

the soldiers withheld information from Ms Campbell on Mr Talib's whereabouts and condition, and mocked her conversion to Islam

Mr Talib and his wife expect to return to Australia and Maryam to Kuwait soon. But all three are looking to the future, determined to be on the next slow boat to Gaza.

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