A 44-year-old Briton, believed to be of Indian-origin, is being hailed as a hero after he risked his life to comfort a young victim of the terror attack in Spain in which a van ploughed into pedestrians, media reports said. Harry Athwal, from Birmingham, had been holidaying in Spain last week when the attackers drove down Las Ramblas, Barcelona, at speed, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100 other.
Without considering his own safety, Athwal ran from the first floor restaurant where he was dining to the pavement and cradled a young boy who had been struck by the van, The Mirror reported. He was seen comforting the boy at the site of the attack with a photo of them going viral as a terrible symbol of the destruction wrought by extremists on the city’s freedom. Athwal ran up to the boy as the terrorist’s van swerved mindlessly past, despite the bodies being thrown high in the air and cries from police to stay back for his own safety.
Later, at a hotel, recovering from the harrowing experience, Athwal told the daily that he cast aside all thoughts for his own safety in that moment because the boy suddenly became in his eyes, his own son. As such, he could not leave him alone to suffer, or to be mowed down again by the terrorists should they reverse callously back down the street.
“He was unconscious, his leg was bent the wrong way, there was blood coming out of his head, I knew it was more than blood. I was checking for a pulse and he didn’t have one,” Athwal said. “I put my hand on his back and I thought he had gone. I was stroking his hair and in floods of tears but I stayed with him, I sat there because I was not going to leave this child in the middle of the road,” he said.
“The police were telling me to move but I would not leave him. All the time I was thinking the terrorists could come back but I was not leaving that child. To me, he looked like my own son. He was my son’s age, seven or eight. I just ran my hands through his hair, it was about comforting him,” Athwal added. The project manager, who lives with this wife Harjinder and sons Diernn, aged 19, and Khye, 8, also told the daily of how he had not even planned to visit Barcelona last week.
He visited with his own family, including his son, Khye, to celebrate the eight-year-old’s birthday earlier this month. But when his sister invited him to join her and friends in a spontaneous trip he agreed.
The group could not check into their rooms straight away when they arrived on Thursday, so decided to have a late lunch on Las Ramblas. They nearly ate down the middle of the pedestrianised street, exactly in the terrorist’s path, but a persuasive waiter luckily tempted them to try his restaurant on a first floor balcony. It was from there they watched the horrifying killing spree unfurl. Spanish police believe 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub drove the van through the crowded street.