At the back of the historic Palace of Justice in Paris, on the banks of the River Seine, masons were putting the finishing touches on a unique architectural structure described as the cross between a high-security bunker and a modern church.
The Bataclan generation does not give up
Its elegant light wood and white lighting were chosen by the French Ministry of Justice to create “a sense of calm” that contrasts with the terrifying events that will soon be judged there. The temporary structure will host from this Wednesday the largest criminal trial in the history of France, in which 20 men are accused of planning, collaborating and carrying out the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 in a stadium, bars and restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall.
The trial, which will last nine months and has former President François Hollande among its witnesses, is considered a crucial step in addressing both the personal and national trauma of the coordinated attacks that killed 130 people and injured more than 490. But not it is clear whether the main defendants will break their silence on the massacre that Hollande described as an “act of war.”
The attacks, claimed by ISIS, began around 9:00 p.m. on Friday, November 13, 2015, when a suicide bomber blew himself up after not being able to enter the Stade de France. Hollande was among the 80,000 people present at the stadium, watching a soccer match between France and Germany. This attack was followed by shootings and suicide bombings in cafes and restaurants in Paris, and an attack on the Bataclan during an Eagles of Death Metal rock concert in which 90 people died.
Abdeslam, the key figure
The key figure in the trial is Salah Abdeslam, considered the last survivor of a cell of 10 men who attacked in the city, most of whom were killed by the police or committed suicide.
Abdeslam, 31, a French citizen born in Brussels, is primarily responsible for the vast logistics operation that brought the terrorists back to Europe from Syria, via the migration route. He is believed to have escorted the three terrorists who blew themselves up at the Stade de France. It is suspected that perhaps he planned his own suicide bombing in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, and he backed down. His brother blew himself up and died in a Paris bar during the attacks.
Abdeslam hid south of Paris after the attacks and called his Brussels contacts to pick him up by car at 5:30 am. After a search operation, he was arrested four months later in a Brussels flat. Days after his arrest, suicide bombers who were allegedly part of the same cell attacked the Brussels airport and metro, killing 32 people and injuring 270.
Mohamed Abrini, 36, a childhood friend of Abdeslam, who is believed to have traveled to the Paris region with the attackers, and was later searched by security cameras along with two of the Brussels airport suicide bombers, will also be tried. .
In total, there are 20 suspects charged with providing planning and logistics assistance. Six will be tried in absentia: five are presumed dead in Iraq or Syria and one is in prison in Turkey.
“Terrorism does not work”
Arthur Dénoveaux, president of the survivor group Life for Paris, was in the audience at the Bataclan concert when the terrorists broke in and opened fire. He managed to escape and led the gang members running through the streets of Paris, gave them 50 Euros and put them in a taxi. “That night I was completely out of my mind,” he says.
Dénovueaux will speak in court as a representative of the close-knit Bataclan community of survivors. “The first layer of what we have to say is about the horror of terrorism, of trauma, how much it destroys your life and those of those around you. Second, the fact that we can talk shows that terrorism does not work. It ruins lives and does not contribute to any real political project. It’s just outright nihilism, no matter how you disguise it. Finally, if we are able to carry all these messages, that shows that resilience exists. ”
He says the survivors want to end the myths that had arisen around the attack, establish the facts and not let the events be co-opted by politics or prejudice. “For me the facts are: I was in the Bataclan and they shot me. But in France it has also become a question about migrants and the fact that terrorists can enter the country with migrants. It became an issue. of foreign policy when Donald Trump mentioned the Bataclan in one of his events, it has become a debate about Islam in France. It has transcended the facts … everything about November 13 is exaggerated, because it is a very extreme event. ”
British chef Michael O’Connor is one of many foreign survivors returning to Paris to speak at the trial. “This is the best opportunity to perhaps give it closure.” There are questions, he says, on a “global scale about why and how it happened” that he would like to understand better, but there are also more personal questions about the events themselves. “When I left the Bataclan I was very confused, even about how long I was in there. ”
Thomas Ricard, the lawyer for 21 Bataclan survivors from the UK and Ireland, says the foreign survivors faced specific problems. “Some left Paris the next morning. If at six in the morning you are on a plane or train back home from a foreign city, you distance yourself from the collective mourning process in Paris. Those who live far away had the feeling: Was this real? Did it happen? That disconnect can influence the assimilation of the attacks. Some may not have tangible physical injuries, but they saw monstrous scenes of war. The trauma and the grieving process are very real. ”
“Among the survivors there is a search for the truth,” says Matthieu Chirez, who will represent British and Irish survivors at the trial. “There is a long-term collective work to recover from suffering and pain. But there is also an awareness that we may not get all the answers in this trial.”
The trial, after a five-year investigation, does not have to conclude whether the French state failed on security or intelligence issues.
For Patricia Correia, whose daughter Précilia and her partner were murdered in the Bataclan and one of the co-founders of the 13onze15 group for families and survivors, this trial “is not only necessary to do justice, but also to preserve the memory of what happened. It must be written – almost engraved in stone – and it must be transmitted to future generations ”.
Translation by Ignacio Rial-Schies