Manchester attack: Malaysian student witnesses blast just rows away from his seat

Tan was getting ready to leave when a blast shook the place.
Tan was getting ready to leave when a blast shook the place. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The lights at the Manchester Arena were gradually being turned on as Ariana Grande wrapped up the concert with Dangerous Woman.

That was the cue for final-year architecture student Tan Zhi Jie, 22, to get ready to leave the iconic venue for the night, probably the most dangerous night out for thousands of youngsters such as himself.

All of a sudden, a huge blast went off two blocks of seats away from where Tan, a student at University of Manchester, was.

"None of us knew what it was or what happened. My seat was in the upper circle and I saw many people, especially kids, screaming and crying. The next thing I knew, everything got chaotic and I was pushed all the way out to the exit," he told The Star.

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Tan jostled with the panicked crowd to exit the venue, only to be greeted by the sight of bleeding people, police cars and ambulances.

It only dawned on him that a bomb might have gone off when he saw smoke billowing from the other side of the arena.

"I saw a lady; she ... she was begging the policeman for help and the policemen weren't sure what to do.

"There were a lot of people screaming, crying, running and bleeding.

"There were also people resting next to police cars," said Kuala Lumpur-born Tan, who went to the concert alone as he couldn't find anyone to accompany him.

When he was out in the open, he walked around for about half an hour before he boarded a bus back to his university.

"I just felt really sorry for all the casualties," said Tan, who was so overwhelmed that he did not leave his hostel after his first ever concert.

Tan's phone beeped non-stop with messages and many missed calls, asking about his condition. He contacted his father via video call to inform him what had happened and that he was safe.

"A concert should be a place of joy, abandonment and outright fun. We saved up for our tickets to see our favourite artistes.

"We sang, danced and enjoyed every single moment, but what happened right after that was just traumatic and heartbreaking.

"This is definitely the worst moment of my life, and I still can't believe that the concert I'd been longing to go to would end like that.

"I'm really lucky. I hope those who lost their lives could rest in peace," said Tan.

The devastating blast, which took place at a foyer outside the Manchester Arena at 10.30pm on Monday (5.30am on Tuesday, Malaysian time), killed 22 and injured 59.

British police have since arrested a 23-year-old man in connection with the act, believed to be a suicide bomb attack. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

Five other Malaysian students managed to leave the concert venue safely, according to the Malaysian High Commission in Britain.

There are 1,303 Malaysian students in Manchester - 1,081 at University of Manchester, 129 at Manchester Metropolitan University, and 93 at University of Salford.

Malaysian Students' Society of Manchester president, Khoo Soo Han, 21, urged fellow students to contact their family members to reassure them of their safety, and to stay vigilant.

The materials science and engineering student at University of Manchester advised students to avoid crowded areas for the time being, adding that it was also examination period now.

Manchester Arena, which opened its doors in 1995, is one of the busiest venues in the world and the largest indoor arena in Europe, with a capacity of 21,000 people.

It has hosted the biggest names in live entertainment, including U2, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Pavarotti and the record-breaking 2010/2011 residency by British comedian Peter Kay. It was also the venue for several major sporting events.

The bombing in Manchester is the second terror attack in Britain this year.

In March, a lone assailant drove a car at high speed into pedestrians on London's Westminster Bridge before launching a frenzied knife attack on a policeman guarding the parliament building.

Five people were killed, including a Romanian woman who succumbed to her injuries a few weeks later.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the Manchester blast was being treated as a terrorist attack, making it the deadliest militant assault in Britain since the 2005 suicide bombings on London's transport system that killed 52 people.

 

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