Bataclan bosses: ‘We could not leave it as a mausoleum’

The Bataclan, where 90 concert-goers were gunned down in the Paris terror attacks last November will re-open on Saturday night. The venue's owners say they had no choice but to go on.

Bataclan bosses: 'We could not leave it as a mausoleum'
Photo: AFP

The directors of the Bataclan concert hall thought long and hard about ever opening its doors again after jihadist gunmen
massacred 90 people there during last year's Paris attacks.

With the British star Sting set to reopen the refurbished venue Saturday, co-director Jules Frutos (see pic below) told AFP that they had had their doubts and “for some time it was difficult”.

“But then, after a few weeks it was clear. We had to go on after such horror and not leave a mausoleum, a tomb,” said Frutos.

“One night of tragedy” should not be allowed to wipe out decades of great musical memories, he insisted.

“We owed it to ourselves to rebuild everything. It was obvious that it had to be rebuilt identically,” added Frutos, who has managed the venue with his business partner Olivier Poubelle since 2004.

“It's important we didn't change it as a venue, its past — that's why people loved it. One night of tragedy mustn't overshadow decades of parties and music,” he said.


Everything replaced

The venue was ravaged by three suicide blasts as well as the bullets unleashed by the attackers, firing systematically into the crowd as an ordinary Friday night descended into carnage.

The interior of the former 19th-century music hall has now been gutted during eight months of refurbishment works.

Everything from the seats to the floorboards were replaced with identical fittings to purge the horror of that fateful night, which saw a total of 130 people killed across Paris as the jihadists targeted bars, restaurants and the national stadium.

Frutos and Poubelle were part of a consortium that bought the theatre only a month before the attack.

Once the decision was made to reopen the theatre, Frutos said they were determined it stay true to its history as the French capital's top indie-rock venue.

“Reopening the Bataclan with a ceremony and then some music didn't cut the mustard for me,” said Frutos, who was determined to put on a show before the November 13 anniversary.

Getting a high profile artist such as Sting — who first played there in 1979 with The Police — fitted perfectly with the Bataclan's unique identity, said Frutos.

“When he came to Paris (in September) he was interviewed by a journalist and said he wanted to come and sing at the Bataclan. I called him and things moved very quickly,” said Frutos.

Sting 'really keen'

“He's really keen — that's an essential ingredient,” added Frutos.

“His coming here is the cherry on the cake that we needed, it gives it meaning. More so than a concert with several acts… that's something I never considered.

“That's not the Bataclan, it's not about that. It's a concert hall that's had several lives, where the programme has never been based on such cliches.”

While some survivors and families of victims have been keen to have their say on how the building should reopen, convincing French musicians to take to the stage has been harder.

Only one fifth of acts so far booked for the Bataclan are homegrown. But Frutos said he understands their reluctance.

“I think it's more difficult for them. We're in Paris, this happened in a Parisian concert hall, I can understand all that,” said Frutos.

“I also understand what (folk singer) Francis Cabrel said ('Singing at the Bataclan is more than I could manage'). I understand, but others will come.

“An artist such as (young French singer-songwriter) Vianney was meant to play several gigs at the Cigale and he cancelled one to come to the Bataclan.

For Damien Saez it was obvious (to come and play), and he prepared specifically for this.

“For the international artists it's not exactly the same thing — there's the (emotional) distance,” he said.

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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.