BBC reporter back at work 10 months after shooting

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Frank Gardner looked into the faces of the gunmen who shot him, and what he saw was "absolute hatred". They had "pressed the button of violence ... and wanted blood". Nothing he said would have dissuaded them from carrying out the execution of a "heathen".

But despite being shot six times at close range, with one bullet severing his spinal nerves, Mr Gardner survived the attack in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh. And yesterday, 10 months later, he was back at his work, in a wheelchair, as the security correspondent for the BBC.

Mr Gardner is learning very slowly to walk, using callipers and walking frames. "But I don't think I will be going on Come Dancing, somehow ... You won't catch me pedalling around the back streets of Riyadh," he said yesterday.

Mr Gardner, 42, married with two daughters, has spent eight months in hospital, and undergone 12 operations. He once visited 28 countries in one year, but from now on he will be concentrating on security in Britain. There was, he said, a job to do trying to explain the issues behind the current terrorist threat. He is also writing a book about his experience.

Mr Gardner's colleague, Simon Cumbers, a cameraman, was killed in the shooting, and he would have died within a couple of hours had it not been for his medical treatment.

"I'm mentally fine, they didn't get to my head. But physically my circumstances are very changed," he said. "It was an execution. It was four feet away. And they hit bullets into the centre of the target, as it were, into my abdomen."

The ambush on the BBC, and the publicity it generated, had widespread repercussions. Coming as it did amid a series of attacks on Western targets, it added to growing perception of the kingdom as a highly dangerous breeding ground of terrorists. While Tony Blair and Jack Straw expressed their shock, the Saudi government announced a crackdown on the Islamist fundamentalists believed to be responsible.

Mr Gardner and Mr Cumbers had travelled to Saudi Arabia to report on the escalating threat to foreigners and the background of the Islamist Wahaabi militancy. Fluent in Arabic and with experience of the Middle East, as an investment banker as well as a journalist, Mr Gardner should, in theory, have been safe.

However, he and Mr Cumbers sought and were given permission to film at al-Suwaidi, a large sprawling slum in the south of Riyadh. It is also home to 15 of Saudi Arabia's 26 most wanted Islamist suspects including Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin, the head of al-Qa'ida in the country, the Saudi government claimed.

"We should have been there for five or 10 minutes; we were there for 30. I think somebody spotted us out of a window, phoned the militants and said: 'Hey, there's a couple of infidels down there filming. If you're quick, you'll get them.' They mounted a very professional operation. They cornered us with two cars. They hemmed us in. There was no way out. I was conscious through the whole attack. Although I didn't see Simon running, I remember every single bit. It's absolutely vivid, like a car crash.

"... I hear them talking in Arabic as they decided what to do with me, just before they turned and fired three bullets into me. Although they searched my pockets they never looked for any ID, so I think the most likely thing is we were just too long in the area.

"The weird thing is, being shot didn't hurt. It was a traumatic experience, but when I lay there - I didn't know it but I had bullets inside me - I was wide awake and conscious and thinking 'Crikey, I have taken lots of hits here, but I'm still alive, so I've got to stay alive for the sake of my family".

Mr Gardner was eventually collected by police car - no ambulances had turned up - and taken to a local hospital where an initial operation took place. However, he managed to get word to the British embassy and they organised medical aid.

Mr Gardner has received letters of support from across the world. "I have had wonderful letters from Saudi Arabia, people saying that as soon as they heard what had happened they rushed to Mecca to pray for me."

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