Glasgow Airport attack: ‘It was like 9/11. Scotland was never the same’
Television producer Jim Manson was only 50 yards away when two terrorists tried to blow up airport.
Five years on from the terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport, STV looks back at the event. This video has Jim Manson speaking moments after the attack
Jim Manson, like thousands of other people, was caught up in the terror attack at Glasgow Airport five years ago. For him, it is a day which will stay in his memory for the rest of his life…a day which changed Scotland.
Just after 3pm on June 30, 2007, Jim was waiting outside the airport to pick up his wife Anne. She had been visiting the couple’s son Scott, a journalist, in London.
Scott was not the only journalist in the family. For years, Jim had worked as a producer on current affairs programmes like The Cook Report and with the likes of investigative reporter Donal MacIntyre. He had been in the middle of many big stories in the past, but what he was about to witness was something much more.
“I was standing outside waiting for my wife to emerge with her bag when suddenly I saw this four-wheel vehicle racing down the airport road,” recalled Jim. “The vehicle did a left turn and crashed very hard into the front doors of the airport building. I was absolutely astonished at this. I thought there had been a terrible accident and somebody had been hurt.
“I started walking towards the vehicle and it burst into flames. Then I realised that the driver, even though he was on fire, was still trying to get the vehicle into the airport building which I found extremely bizarre and odd.
“The wheels were spinning round and clearly he was trying to push his way into the airport building. Somebody else had jumped out the back and appeared to be on fire. I immediately thought this is a terrorist attack of some kind.
“I can remember the vivid sound of when he (the driver) was trying to force his way into the building and he had a determined look on his face. It was quite compelling. I have never seen anything like that before in my life.”
Jim was approximately 50 yards away from the Jeep when the unbelievable scene unfolded in front of him. His first thought was for his wife.
He ran inside the airport and found Anne waiting for her bag. “She didn’t know what was happening, and neither did anyone else. Everyone was wondering what was going on. There was an alarm bell going off, but nothing else.
“I said to my wife ‘I think there is a terrorist attack going on. Let us get out of here now’. She didn’t believe me and said she wanted to get her bag back. I said ‘Forget your bag, we need to get out of here now. Your life may be in danger’.”
As the couple left the building, Jim and Anne saw a number of airport staff and security personnel around the Jeep and the terrorists.
Jim, who worked as the head of factual programmes and features for SMG at the time, picked up his phone and called the STV newsroom. On the other end of the line was reporter Gordon Chree.
Jim remembered: “I said ‘this is happening right now. It may well blow up any minute’. I then became the reporter on the scene because people couldn’t get to the airport as the roads were blocked off by the police. I was feeding back information to the newsroom, and about half an hour later I was speaking to ITN.”
Gordon was the first television reporter to arrive at Glasgow Airport after the attack. One of the first people he interviewed was Jim. In the hours and days that followed, the producer spoke to TV news crews from around the world, including broadcasters from American networks and around Europe.
He added: “I had to spend half a day with Special Branch, telling them what had happened. It is something that I am going to tell my grandchildren about in years to come. The attack caused absolute chaos and there are a lot of people who have memories of that day.
“What was astonishing was the international interest. The international community didn’t expect Scotland to be a target.”
But Scotland was a target. The bombers Kafeel Ahmed and Bilal Abdulla, motivated by the war in Iraq, were trying to kill hundreds of innocent people.
After failing in their mission to explode car bombs outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub in London on June 29, 2007, the pair fled north to their home in Houston, Renfrewshire. They packed their jeep with gas cylinders, petrol and nails and drove to the airport hours later.
Ahmed crashed the Jeep into the front entrance but the vehicle became stuck on a bollard. He tried desperately to free the Jeep and drive it inside but members of the public and police officers tackled the terrorists and they were arrested. A massacre was prevented.
Ahmed later died of burns he sustained in the attack. Abdulla was jailed for 32 years following the conclusion of his trial a year later.
Baggage handler John Smeaton, one of those who tackled the terrorists, told news crews “this is Glasgow…we’ll set aboot ye”. He became a worldwide celebrity in the days and months after the attack. Many others reflected on their own, considering an event which could have caused the deaths of hundreds of Scots.
Five years on, Jim works as the managing director of YourTV and The Luxury Channel. The 65-year-old still thinks about the day of the terror attacks and what it meant for Scotland.
“It was a mixture of feelings that day - surprise, shock, concern that we were in danger, and also how calm everybody seemed to be. There was no panic. After the attack, there was no transport. The police had shut everything down by that point.
“The Jeep was a smoking ruin. The fire brigade was coming, bomb squads were arriving. We all then went on a long march towards Paisley. Hundreds and hundreds of people were in a line like refugees, all marching towards Paisley. My wife and I joined them.
“I talked to my wife about it the other day; I said it is amazing that it has been five years since that happened. I will never forget it. That day will never leave me.
“It was almost like America and the trade centre bombings, September 11. It was a day of immense change for Scotland, and Scotland was never the same after that. We realised, there was a vulnerability and Scotland was in the firing line just like everywhere else in the world.
“We could have all been killed that day. If that Jeep managed to get into the airport and carried out the acts of terrorism they planned to do, who knows what would have happened. Scores of people would have died in Glasgow. Thank goodness the guy didn’t get through those doors.”