‘France was struck to the heart’: Survivors remember Paris attacks

France on Friday marked five years since a squad of jihadist attackers went on a killing rampage in Paris in its worst peacetime atrocity, with the psychological wounds still raw and the country shaken by a string of new attacks

'France was struck to the heart': Survivors remember Paris attacks
David Fritz Goeppinger, who wrote a book about surviving the Bataclan massacre said the trauma was still with him. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP
The night of carnage on November 13, 2015 saw 130 people killed and 350 wounded when Islamist suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a sports stadium, bars and restaurants and a concert hall.
The sheer horror of the attacks, claimed by extremists from the Islamic State group, left scars that have not yet healed as the security threat to France remains.
“Five years later, the most difficult thing is still the date of November 13 and all that surrounds it,” said David Fritz Goeppinger, who survived the Bataclan massacre and wrote a book, “A Day in Our Lives”, to help overcome the experience.
“It's really hard for me to say 'today, I'm better or today, that's it… Post-traumatic stress is not forgotten,” he told AFP.
Frenchwoman Catherine Bertrand, who also survived the Bataclan assault and wrote a comic book, “Chronicles of a Survivor”, said the post-traumatic stress has lessened over time but still returns.
“As soon as it's a question of going out, of using transport, it comes back,” she said.
Quiet memorials
The fifth anniversary of the November 2015 strikes comes with France reeling from a knife attack outside the former offices of the Charlie Hebdo weekly, the beheading of a teacher and a deadly stabbing spree at a Nice church.
The renewed assault has reopened an impassioned and sometimes painful debate over France's approach towards its Muslim minority, with President Emmanuel Macron calling for a crackdown on Islamist radicalism.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told Franceinfo radio on Friday that 48 foreigners without proper paperwork and suspected of radicalisation had been expelled from France since July 1.
“Let us never forget those who left us,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a message on social media.
“France was struck to the heart. Horror in the middle of Paris, But the French remained standing. Standing in the face of terror. Standing to defend our freedom and values,” he added.
Debout pour ceux qui sont tombés.
Debout pour ceux qui restent.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) November 13, 2020
Prime Minister Jean Castex and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo earlier attended small memorial ceremonies Friday, scaled down because of the coronavirus pandemic, at targeted sites including the Stade de France, the bar Le Carillon and the Bataclan venue.
“Today, five years on, Paris remembers,” tweeted Hidalgo, using as a hashtag the Latin-language nautical motto of Paris — Fluctuat Nec Mergitur (She is Rocked but does not Sink).
The Eiffel Tower was due to switch its lights off from 8:00 pm (1900 GMT) in homage to the victims and then flash every hour in memory of the attack.
“This was an assault not just on the people of Paris but against our common humanity and shared values,” US president-elect Joe Biden said in a statement, vowing improved cooperation “in order to confront the many shared challenges we face”.
Trials and new attacks
Since 2015, atrocities have increasingly been carried out by people unknown to the intelligence services who are often inspired by jihadist propaganda and use weapons such as knives in attacks that need little preparation.
“They are still attacking us but through fanatic individuals who use knives to create fear,” Francois Hollande, who was president at the time of the attacks, told the Le Parisien newspaper. “The war on our soil is therefore not over, but many battles have been won since 2015.”
In January 2015, Islamist gunmen massacred staff at Charlie Hebdo, claiming they were avenging the satirical weekly's publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.
True to its defiant reputation, the magazine republished the cartoons to mark the start in September of the trial of suspected accomplices in the killings.
In the wake of that move, a Pakistan-born man wounded two people with a meat cleaver on September 25 outside Charlie Hebdo's former offices.
Teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his class the same cartoons, was beheaded outside his school on October 16 by an Islamist radical from Chechnya. And on October 29, a man recently arrived from Tunisia killed three people with a knife in a Nice church.
Verdicts in the Charlie Hebdo trial, which had been expected this week, are now due on November 27 as the process resumes on Monday following a two-week adjournment after three defendants tested positive for Covid-19.
Early 2021 will meanwhile see the opening of the trial into 20 suspects in the November 2015 Paris attacks.
Just one of the suspected perpetrators will in the dock — French-Belgian Salah Abdeslam — as all of the other attackers detonated their explosive vests or were killed by police.

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Historic trial begins in Paris over November 2015 terror attacks

The biggest trial in France's modern legal history begins on Wednesday over the November 2015 attacks on Paris that saw 130 people killed at bars, restaurants, the Stade de France and the Bataclan concert hall.

Historic trial begins in Paris over November 2015 terror attacks
A memorial to the 130 victims of the November 13th attacks in Paris. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

The suicide bombing and gun assault by three teams of jihadists, planned from Syria and later claimed by the Islamic State group, was France’s worst post-war atrocity.

The only surviving attacker, Salah Abdeslam, will be in the dock at the purpose-built facility at the historic court of justice on the Île de la Cité in central Paris, along with 13 other defendants.

Six others are being tried in absentia. Twelve of the 20 people on trial, including Abdeslam, face life sentences if convicted.

“We are entering the unknown,” said Arthur Denouveaux, a survivor of the Bataclan music venue attack and president of Life for Paris, a victims’ association. “We can’t wait for it to start, but we’re asking, How will it be for the next nine months?”

The trial will last until May 2022, with 145 days for hearings involving about 330 lawyers, 300 victims and former president François Hollande, who will testify in November.

The case file runs to a million pages in 542 volumes, measuring 53 metres across.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti this week described the trial as “historic” and “one of all superlatives” as he inspected the courtroom.

Surviving gunman Abdeslam, now 31, who was born in Belgium but has French and Moroccan nationality, fled the scene of the carnage after abandoning his suicide belt, which investigators later found to be defective.

He was captured four months later in Brussels, hiding in a building close to his family home.

Abdeslam has resolutely refused to cooperate with the French investigation and remained largely silent throughout a separate trial in Belgium in 2018, where he declared only that he put his “trust in Allah” and that the court was biased.

A major question is whether he will speak at his scheduled testimony, set for mid-January.

Another focus of the trial will be on how the squad of killers managed to enter France undetected, allegedly using the flow of migrants from Islamic State-controlled regions of Syria as cover.

Fourteen of the accused – who face charges ranging from providing logistical support to planning the attacks as well as weapons offences – are expected to be present in court.

They include a Swedish national, Osama Krayem, who Belgian investigators have identified as one of the killers of a Jordanian pilot burned alive in a cage by Isis in early 2015 in Syria. He is also under investigation in Sweden for war crimes.

The alleged coordinator, Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed by French police northeast of Paris five days after the attacks.

Of the six tried in absentia, five are presumed dead, mainly in air strikes in Syria.

The horror was unleashed late on the night of Friday, November 13th, when jihadists detonated suicide belts outside the Stade de France stadium where Hollande was in the crowd watching France play a football match against Germany. One man was killed there.

A group of Islamist gunmen, including Abdeslam’s brother Brahim, later opened fire from a car on half a dozen restaurants in the trendy 10th and 11th Arrondissements of the capital, which were packed with people on the balmy autumn evening.

The massacre culminated at the Bataclan music venue. Three jihadists stormed in during a performance, killing a total of 90 people.

While the trial’s initial phase will be devoted to procedural issues, testimonies are expected to begin on September 28th from some 300 survivors and relatives of victims for five weeks of harrowing statements.

Security forces will be on high alert.