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TERRORISM

‘Paris remembers’: France marks five years since November 13th terror attacks

Five years after a squad of jihadist killers carried out France's deadliest peacetime atrocity, the country is again on its highest security alert following a spate of attacks blamed on Islamist radicals.

'Paris remembers': France marks five years since November 13th terror attacks
Flowers outside the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. Photo: AFP

The night of carnage on November 13th, 2015 saw 130 people killed and 350 wounded when Islamist suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the Stade de France stadium, bars and restaurants in central Paris and the Bataclan concert hall.

 

Due to the lcokdown, memorials this year have been scaled down, but across France people took a moment to remember the victims of the attacks – both those who died and those who survived but continue to struggle with injuries and trauma.

Many on social media changed their profile pictures to the Paris motto fluctuat nec mergitur, which roughly translates as 'rocked by the waves, but not sunk'.

 

 

The sheer horror of the attacks, which were claimed by extremists from the Islamic State (IS) group, left scars that have still not healed. Modern France's attitude towards Islam remains an issue of burning controversy.

And the security threat to France has not diminished, security sources say, even if the nature of the risk has changed with attackers more likely to be lone extremists inspired by a deadly ideology than part of an organised group.

The fifth anniversary of the November 2015 strikes comes with France still reeling from three attacks in recent weeks: 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.

“You might think that the threat has faded into the background as other problems emerged,” a French security source, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

“But in reality, the figures show that it has remained high since 2015.”   

In the last five years, 20 attacks have been carried out on French soil, 19 plots failed and 61 were foiled.

There has been an increasing trend of attacks being carried out by isolated individuals, previously unknown to the intelligence services, who are inspired by jihadist propaganda and carry out attacks with cold weapons needing little preparation.

But the threat of an attack planned from outside France – as was the case on November 13th, 2015 – remains serious.

“Just because IS has suffered a military defeat does not mean its military capacities have been annihilated,” said a French official involved in the fight against terror, who asked not to be named.

Between 100 and 200 French jihadists are still believed to be in former IS strongholds in northern Iraq and Syria, and it would be an “illusion” to think they were not capable of clandestinely coming back to France, added the official.

In January 2015, Islamist gunmen massacred staff at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly, claiming they were avenging its 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 25th outside Charlie Hebdo's former offices.

Teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his class the cartoons, was beheaded outside his school on October 16th by an Islamist radical from Chechnya. And on October 29th a man recently arrived from Tunisia killed three people with a knife in a Nice church.

The security source said the risks were higher in the context of the current Charlie Hebdo trial and another trial over the Paris attacks, which is due to open early next year.

These hearings keep up “a kind of background noise” with the risk of “actions of support to those” who are on trial, said the security source.

The 2021 trial into the Paris attacks will see just one of the suspected perpetrators in the dock – French-Belgian Salah Abdeslam.   

Nineteen other suspects accused of providing various logistical support will be on trial with him, though five are presumed dead in Iraq or Syria will be tried in absentia.

The suspected coordinator of the attacks – Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud who shot indiscriminately at packed cafe terraces that night – was killed five days later in a police assault on the Paris suburb of Saint Denis.

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TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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