A Muslim man who was left with life-changing injuries following an acid attack in east London has demanded to know why the assault is not being treated as terrorism.
Jameel Muhktar had to be put in a coma for two days after a man threw acid at him and his cousin Resham Khan through a car window as they sat at traffic lights in Beckton
“If this was an Asian guy like myself, going up to an English couple in a car and acid attacking them, I know for a fact and the whole country knows that it would be classed as a terror attack,” he told Channel 4 News.
“It’s definitely a hate crime. I believe it’s something to do with Islamophobia. Maybe he’s got it in for Muslims because of the things that have been going on lately.
“I don’t know if people are trying to retaliate. We’re innocent people. We didn’t deserve that. I’ve never seen this guy in my life.
“I don’t have any problems with anybody. My cousin is 21, she’s a business student. Why would anyone do that to us?”
The attack came on Ms Khan’s 21st birthday, leaving her with horrific injuries to her face and body needing skin grafts, and her cousin with wounds to his stomach, face, neck, ears, arms and back requiring extensive surgery.
Mr Muhktar, 37, said he initially thought the attacker, described as white British, was conducting a “practical joke” when he knocked on the car window on 21 June.
“He just squirted this clear liquid over us, which I thought was water until my cousin started to scream,” he added.
“I was watching her burning. Next thing I know, I’m burning, my seat’s burning, my trainers are burning, her skin’s peeling…within seconds.”
Mr Muhktar described how his clothes and shoes started “melting” to his body as he was left temporarily blinded, crashing the car into a barrier.
He desperately stripped off his clothes and tried to help his cousin while screaming for help from nearby houses.
Residents ran out with buckets of water and a hose in attempts to wash the acid off the victims.
“When I went to hospital, they had to jet wash me to get the acid off,” Mr Mukhtar said. “It was excruciating pain, I was screaming like a baby.”
He described the continued agony feeling like “someone’s ironing me 24/7”, adding: “I’m never going to be the same again, I’m always going to be scarred.”
“I haven’t done anything to anybody and nor has my cousin,” Mr Mukhtar added.
“We’re not terrorists. This guy tried to kill us, I’m lucky I’m alive.”
Campaigners sad Ms Khan, who is studying business management in Manchester, had recently returned from an exchange programme in Cyprus and was due to start a new job within days.
“Resham is usually a very confident young woman…but now she feels as though her identity has been stolen from her,” friends said.
“Although we have faith justice will be served once the criminal is caught, the scars Resham and Jameel will carry will last a lifetime.”
Ms Khan said police did not take a statement from her for several days after the attack, writing on Twitter that an ambulance “took too long” to arrive and they had to be given a lift to hospital by a passing driver.
The type of acid used in the attack has not been confirmed, but calls are mounting for restrictions to be imposed on sales.
More than 24,000 people have signed a petition for Parliament to consider new laws to combat “rife” acid attacks.
Sarmad Ismail, who started the petition, wrote: “It is about time that the law gets changed for the purchase of acid, as anyone can buy it easily from any hardware store.
“It is a very lethal and life damaging substance that should only be allowed to be purchased with a licence…the Government must do something about this.”
The attack came amid fears of rising anti-Muslim hate crime following the terror attack on worshippers in Finsbury Park and concerns over a potential “backlash” to attacks claimed by Isis in London Bridge, Manchester and Westminster.
Police are appealing for information on a man they want to speak to regarding the acid attack, which took place in Tollgate Road at around 9.15am on 21 June.
A spokesperson described John Tomlin, 24, as white, around 6ft tall, of stocky build and with short fair hair, saying he is known to frequent the Canning Town area.
“While enquiries into this attack remain ongoing, there is no current information to suggest that this attack was racially or religiously motivated,” he added.
A Facebook page appearing to belong to Tomlin, who has a partner and young daughter, contains posts using language linked to the far-right.
“A sleeping lion can only be provoked so much before it wakes up and attacks…and so will us British,” reads one post shared in 2015.
“We will stand and we will fight. We will reclaim what is rightfully ours. We will not surrender.”
Police warned of the public not to approach Tomlin, who has distinctive face tattoos of a dagger and tears, but dial 999 immediately if he is seen.
Det Supt Neil Matthews, said: “We will continue to progress these enquiries as quickly as humanly possible and fully understand concerns that they should be brought to justice quickly.”
Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s territorial support group raided a house in E16 hours after the attack but there have been no arrests.
Anyone with detail of Tomlin’s whereabouts is asked to call the police non-emergency line on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.