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Manchester shopkeeper’s act of defiance in city revisited by terror

Masood Akbarzai
Masood Akbarzai

Masood Akbarzai’s coffee shop sits on the very spot where an IRA blast ripped the heart out of Manchester’s main shopping district 21 years ago.

The post box which survived the devastation wreaked by a 3,300-lb homemade bomb stands directly opposite Second Cup Coffee in a proud sheen of red.

A few hundred yards down Corporation Street is a police cordon protecting Manchester Arena, the scene of the latest terror outrage in the city.

Mr Akbarzai’s shop is the only one to open in the street on Tuesday, in an act of defiance against Monday night’s atrocities.

“We are now in a position where it is deemed that this is a place for terrorist activities and we are here today just to send a message out there that actually this is not true,” he told The Courier.

“We are the only business that is open today in this street, but really we are not open for business because me and my team are only here to support all those people who are stranded in town, who need shelter, food and drinks.

“We are here to spread some positivity and to help where we can.”

He said that counter-terrorism is not fit for purpose to defend the UK as he called for the resources to eliminate the threat altogether.

He added: “Personally, I am optimistic that in the future our security services will be a lot more vigilant.

“A place like Manchester should have better surveillance in place and better security systems in place.”

Mr Akbarzai’s reaction to reach out to those affected is mirrored across the busy Arndale area, as the city struggles to come terms with the worst terror attack in the UK since the London tube bombings in 2005.

At the cordon in Deansgate, a man walks the perimeter with a sign promising “free hugs”, local restaurant staff emerge with refreshments and taxi drivers put in a star turn.

The cabbies, who had been on the frontline helping out those affected by the disaster on the night, extended their complimentary journeys well into the next day.

Uber driver Faraz Khan, 39, was among those who left “free ride” notes in their vehicles to walk around with a crate of drinks and snacks.

“It’s shameful, it’s a disgrace, there are no words,” Mr Kahn, of the Greater Manchester Drivers’ Forum, said of the attack.

“We provided free rides all night and we will continue that. We were at the forefront of getting people to safety. It was a call we had to answer.”

Medhanie Fissehaie, another taxi driver and a former solider, has served in Eritrea, which secured independence from Ethiopia in the early 1990s after a 30-year war.

“I have seen a lot of terrible things in my life, but my heart broke when I heard about this.

“I have a 12-year-old daughter and I just hope there is no-one she knows affected.”

Leaders of different faiths opened condolence books at the scene and offered comfort to those affected.

Charles Kawaku-Odoi, a Christian Minister whose work includes trying to bring different faiths together, said Manchester was pulling together.

“People are showing solidarity, offering support, offering friendship. Manchester is resilient,” he said.

But the comradery is not absolute, with one woman offering a more sinister reaction.

Arriving on the scene on the verge of tears, she thought it was disrespectful for some faith groups to be there too and criticised a reporter who was interviewing Muslim men offering refreshments.

“Why is that journalist only talking to those people?” she added.

“He’s ignoring the white people who are also helping.”

A quick search on Twitter reveals such views are all too common.

Sinking to them-and-us vitriol only serves to satisfy the division and resentment those responsible crave.

Luckily, it was those who had race and religion furthest from their mind as they stepped in to help their fellow citizens who truly represented Manchester on the most torrid of days.

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