Return to the hell of the Bataclan

Surveillance. A French agent stands guard in front of the entrance to the Bataclan theater as it remains closed in the wake of the attacks six years ago. / EFE

The Paris Court opens to the pain of the survivors of the November 2015 attacks during the toughest phase of the trial for those attacks

BEATRIZ JUDGE Correspondent. Paris

More than a month after the start of the trial for the attacks of November 13, 2015, the survivors explain in the Paris Court how they experienced the attacks, their physical and mental injuries, the friends and relatives they lost in the massacre, the operations surgical procedures they underwent, the aftermath and ups and downs in their recovery. This newspaper has attended one of the sessions of this trial, where emotions are running high. Listening to testimonials is not easy.

That night 130 people were killed and 350 wounded in a series of coordinated jihadist attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis, outside the French capital. The attacks were claimed by the terrorist group Islamic State. The massacre and hostage-taking in the Bataclan concert hall overshadowed, due to the large number of victims, what happened in the vicinity of the Stade de France in Saint Denis, where a friendly football match between France and Germany was being played, and in the terraces of various cafes and restaurants in Paris, scenes of other shootings.

At the Bataclan the American band Eagles of Death Metal played. The beer flowed. People danced, sang and had fun. There was a very good atmosphere, according to several witnesses at one point during the trial. Suddenly, three jihadist terrorists entered the room and sowed horror with their kalashnikovs shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ (Allah is the greatest). “France has nothing to do in Syria. The first to move, I’ll kill him, ”said one of them, according to Irmine, a survivor of the massacre.

“I was in a concert hall and what I saw was a mass grave,” recalls a witness

The first bullets came out of their magazines at 9:40 p.m., when the group played the song ‘Kiss the Devil’. The music stopped suddenly. Shots. Screams. Death. Chaos gripped the room. The Bataclan was transformed into a large morgue. 90 people died that night on the premises.

With tears in their eyes and broken voices, several survivors tell, with greater or lesser difficulty, what they experienced that night in the mythical Parisian concert hall. Some details chill the blood. The presiding judge asks the press not to publish the surnames of the victims. The 14 defendants present in the room – another six are on the run from justice – seem to be following the statements of the witnesses closely. One wonders what goes through their heads when they hear the testimonies. The masks, mandatory in court due to the covid-19 pandemic, hide their emotions. Hard to know.

Irmine, who lost a friend in the massacre, turns on the stand and addresses the accused directly. “I wonder what happened in the home of the murderers who are there to shoot innocents. If something happened in your childhood. Because the people they shot were real people. ” Irmine, who was injured by the bullets that grazed her chest, assures that she has “scars on her skin, heart and soul.” No one seems to flinch on the defendant’s dock with their testimony or that of other victims.

Jean-Marc, another 40-year-old survivor, went to the concert with five friends. He says he saw how the terrorists fired at the public and people fell dead or wounded around him under the bullets. He couldn’t escape or protect himself. He played “dead until the end of the attack.”

“We felt totally powerless. Facing the ground. We did not know what to do. We wondered whether or not the next bullet would hit us. Relieved that they weren’t the next target, knowing it was to someone else’s detriment. It was inhuman ”, explains Jean-Marc excitedly.

Smell of gunpowder and blood

Thibault, for his part, was convinced that tonight they were going to die at the Bataclan. He and his wife, Anne-Laure, managed to survive by hiding with more people in the false ceiling of the toilets. “Animal instinct. They were shooting at us like rabbits, ”says Anne-Laure.

Several victims recall the smell of gunpowder and fresh blood that permeated the concert hall, the screams of the wounded, the agony of those who were about to die, the piled-up corpses and the sound of the victims’ mobiles, whom his family and friends called incessantly without getting an answer and without knowing if they were alive or dead.

«It was absurd. I was in a concert hall and what I saw before my eyes was a mass grave ”, describes Pierre-Sylvain, whose face was pierced by a bullet, but miraculously managed to save his eye. What he experienced that night at the Bataclan, together with his partner Hélène, was “hell”, “an indescribable spectacle”, in his own words. “We were at the mercy (of the terrorists). They executed people on the ground ”, explains Pierre-Sylvain, who after the attack avoided crowded places and did not use public transport.

Volunteers assist the injured in the street. / AFP

“We are victims of war, although we are not at the front”

The scars of some of the survivors are visible, like those of Gäelle, with his face still deformed by the bullets, despite the multiple operations he has undergone in these six years. After surviving the attack, this Parisian woman realized that she was “a victim of war between (the squares of the) Bastille and the Republique. However, I was not at the front, but in a concert hall, ”says Gäelle.

Other scars, those of those who emerged physically unscathed from the attacks, are invisible, but just as painful. After the attacks, the victims and their families received medical, psychological or psychiatric help. Many suffered from nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some feel guilty that they are still alive. Many are still not over it.

For Pierre-Sylvain, the trial is “the beginning to move on.” He believes that it will allow to create “a collective story in a sacred space” and, to all the victims, speak throughout the nine months that the process will last, so that “the burden is better shared.”

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