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After Orlando News, American Talks About Being Attacked In London


We're reporting this morning on the murder of a British member of Parliament. Jo Cox was a strong advocate for refugees and Britain's place in the EU. She had been meeting with constituents when a man shouting the anti-EU slogan Britain First first attacked her with a knife and what appeared to be a homemade gun.


Those weapons in a country where guns are hard to get bring us to our next conversation. Last December, Lyle Zimmerman, who's an American biologist living in London, was attacked in the subway by a man with a knife. The attacker was Somalia-born Muslim shouting that he was getting revenge for the bombing of Syria. Lyle Zimmerman survived the knife attack and chose to stay out of the news during the trial of his attacker.

MONTAGNE: But the massacre at the Pulse nightclub moved him to speak out about his attack. This is his first broadcast interview.

LYLE ZIMMERMAN: I basically have pretty limited memories, but I know somebody jumped me from behind. And I remember being down on the floor and getting kicked in the head.

MONTAGNE: We though - and you too know from this trial that you were attacked in quite a horrible way.

ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. He cut my throat while I was unconscious on the ground. He didn't end up wounding me very badly because the knife that he had wasn't very sharp. And apparently it broke while he was actually working on my neck.

MONTAGNE: Well, it was a bread knife, as I understand it. And you say it didn't wound you badly, but it does seem like a terrible wound, a big gash in your neck but just not a deadly wound.

ZIMMERMAN: It's pretty impressive. It's about 5 inches across, and I was bleeding a lot. It wasn't very deep, so it didn't pierce the major vessels. It didn't pierce my windpipe. I was very unlucky to have been selected more or less at random by this guy, but I got some help from passersby who helped chase the guy off. And then on the next subway train, there was an off-duty doctor. So by the time I came around five or 10 minutes later, there was a medical professional looking after me, although this guy was still wandering around the station threatening people.

MONTAGNE: He was eventually taken down by police with Tasers. But people said that he was shouting something like this is for my Syrian brothers. I'm going to spill your blood. He was shown later then to have used his phone to download images. And some of those images were pretty awful, the sorts of propaganda that's put out by this group ISIS and other groups. How did you come to perceive him?

ZIMMERMAN: I thought he was crazy. I didn't hear him shouting anything. I was the subject of this frenzied attack. But this guy had been hospitalized for schizophrenia. His family had been trying to get him help. It doesn't surprise me that in the current climate that's what his mental illness latched onto.

MONTAGNE: I understand that one of the reasons you are speaking out now and haven't in the last six months since this attack was the attack in Orlando.


MONTAGNE: Was that because you were looking at what happened to you and looking at Orlando and seeing how differently they played out?

ZIMMERMAN: I see a lot of parallels between the Orlando shooting and my own event with the main difference being the U.K. has strong gun-control. And I'm not just still alive. I am spectacularly untraumatized. That guy with his violent state of mind, if he'd had access to firearms, could have killed or injured a large number of people. But because firearms are very, very difficult to get in London, my injuries are minimal, and nobody else sustained wounds that even needed treatment.

MONTAGNE: And he lived...


MONTAGNE: ...As well because the police were not - they were armed with Tasers.

ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, and that's typical of the U.K. There are armed police, but a very small number, even in a large and complicated city like London.

MONTAGNE: Well, another turn in your story was that initially this was brought as a case of terrorism. After he was convicted of attempted murder, Scotland Yard, the head of counterterrorism, said I would not class it as a terrorist incident now because now where is he?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, he's certainly in a secure mental hospital facility. And I think that's right that his mental health was so poor that Scotland Yard made the decision that even as a lone-wolf terrorist act, it was really more just a mental health crisis.

MONTAGNE: Lyle Zimmerman is a British-American living in London. He was attacked six months ago in the London subway by a man armed with a knife claiming he was getting revenge for Syria. Thank you very much for joining us.

ZIMMERMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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