LONDON: Delivery rider Jabed Hussain was waiting at a traffic light one night in east London when two attackers sprayed acid in his face and stole his moped.
It was one of hundreds of attacks in the British capital every year that have prompted government intervention and left the city’s police force asking the public for help to tackle the crime wave.
Hussain recalled feeling “burning on my face” during the robbery in Hackney.
“If they want to take my bike, there are a lot of weapons… why (have) they got to choose the weapon of acid?” he told AFP as he returned to the spot where the attack happened.
The number of assaults is increasing rapidly.
The British capital saw 454 acid attacks reported last year, up from 261 in 2015 and 166 the year before.
Hussain suffers from chest problems after swallowing water which he believes contained traces of the acid, although his helmet protected much of his face and he has no visible scars.
A pizza delivery driver attacked in north-east London last month was not so lucky, left in a critical condition after being sprayed with acid while his helmet visor was up.
Jaf Shah, head of the London-based Acid Survivors Trust International, said victims were “incredibly strong, resilient and courageous individuals”.
“Because when you take into account the devastation of such an attack, it requires an enormous amount of strength to go through and recover,” he told AFP.
Shah blamed the increase in attacks on a lack of regulation to stop people buying acid, although he noted the recent cases have “concentrated the minds of government officials”.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced new proposals in October to force people carrying acid to prove they have a legitimate reason, taking the same approach used to tackle knife violence where possession of the weapon alone is criminalised.
Rudd also plans to require people buying high-concentrate sulphuric acid — such as drain cleaner — to apply for a Home Office licence.
MP Stephen Timms called for the changes in parliament in July, after his east London constituency of East Ham suffered a spate of attacks.
His intervention followed an attack against two cousins who were sitting in their car in Beckton, leaving both with life-changing injuries.
“What we cannot do is allow a situation where people feel scared to walk around the streets,” he told AFP in his local library.
“And that’s the position we were getting into after that attack on the two cousins, people just thought it wasn’t safe to walk up and down the road anymore.” – APP