Seven killed in gas bomb attack on Lisbon club

The room went dark, and dancers scrambled over each other to escape as it filled with poisonous smoke
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The Independent Online

Seven people were killed and 65 injured in Lisbon early yesterday morning after unknown assailants tossed poisonous gas bombs into a crowded African nightclub, prompting panic and a deadly stampede to escape.

Seven people were killed and 65 injured in Lisbon early yesterday morning after unknown assailants tossed poisonous gas bombs into a crowded African nightclub, prompting panic and a deadly stampede to escape.

Six of the victims - four men and three women died - were Portuguese, of Angolan origin. The other was a Spanish woman, aged 20, who was visiting Lisbon with two friends for Easter's Holy Week holidays. The injured were taken to three hospitals to be treated for poisoning, shock and external injuries, after up to 1,000 dancers scrambled to flee the packed Luanda nightclub.

The club-owner said: "It was a situation of total panic. The people who were in the disco couldn't bear to stay inside because there was no oxygen, and the lights went out at the same moment."

Some of those who died were thought to have been asphyxiated by the gas, which was described as "pepper gas" or a "smoke bomb". Others were trampled in the crush to escape the ,smoke-filled death-trap. The result of the autopsies are due to be announced today.

The fashionable Luanda dance-club, always busy at weekends, was especially crowded for the start of the Holy Week holidays that had drawn additional visitors from Spain. The young Spanish woman who died had been accompanied by two friends from Madrid, who were unhurt.

The most popular Lisbon dockside African club, the vast Alcantara Mar, was closed for renovation, compounding pressure on the nearby Luanda.

The scene outside the club was grim yesterday. "It was horrible. I have never seen anything like it," said Susana Gomes, 20, of Angolan origin, after returning to the dance-club to collect possessions abandoned in the chaos of the night before. "It was criminal. Somebody knew what was going on because the lights went out just when it happened," she added.

Abandoned shoes, rain-sodden bank-notes and articles of clothing lay near the doorway. The entrance of the large greenish building, in a narrow, cobbled alleyway, was littered with broken bottles and spattered with bloodstains.

Police have opened an investigation and were examining video tapes from a security camera that was filming at the time. They combed through the club yesterday morning and kept journalists out. No motive has been put forward, and no arrests made. The club's former owner, Joao Brito, said yesterday that six similar but lesser incidents of gas attacks had occurred in recent months.

The Luanda dance-club, like similar African clubs in this once run-down, now fiercely fashionable part of town, is extremely popular among young Portuguese and other Europeans, drawn by the hot African rhythms that have, in recent years, outstripped the mournful fado as the city's favourite music. Based in a converted warehouse in the former dockland district of Alcantara, the Luanda is one of Lisbon's most popular rendezvous for Angolans, Cape Verdeans and others from Portugal's former African colonies.

It has been described by the El Pais newspaper as "a new fashion temple of Lisbon's African scene".

"It's very difficult to cross the dance floor. Men and women, dressed in tight, exotic costumes with sequins and mirrors, or the latest Armani or Hugo Boss, astonishing hair-dos and gigantic platform shoes, dance close-up," the paper wrote in a recent description of the club.

The Luanda was at its most jumping at 4.30am yesterday when the unidentified "poison" bombs went off. Local authorities confirmed that the club had recently passed a safety regulations inspection. There was immediate speculation that commercial, nationalist or racial rivalries between different African communities might have provoked the attack.

Racial violence is rare in Lisbon, where more than 200,000 Africans have settled in the decades since Portugal's African colonies achieved independence. The proliferation of African clubs has created the most exciting nightlife in Europe, a hectic scene that rivals Madrid as it was at the height of the 1990s "movida".

The attack was the worst of its kind in Portugal since 13 people were killed and 13 injured three years ago when hooded, armed men burst into a discotheque in the northern town of Amarante and set it on fire with petrol. Five were jailed for 25 years, including the owner of a rival late-night bar.