Paris one year later: Terror attacks still spark fear

PARIS — One year after terrorists struck the City of Light, Parisians plan to memorialize the 130 victims with commemorative plaques, a special concert and a determination to keep fear from destroying their tradition of solidarity.

Memories of the horrific Nov. 13, 2015, attacks are still vivid, and the emotional wounds have yet to heal.

“I keep thinking someone can just walk in and blow himself up. There is nothing we can do against terrorism,” said Stanislas Dutillieux, 41, owner of the audio-visual company DeeStan Prod. "If someone is determined to kill, he can do it."

Illustrator Milva Pecquel, 32, who commutes daily on the Parisian metro, agrees, and says she no longer feels safe.

“When the metro stops in between stations, everyone stares at each other,” Pecquel said. “We used to be worried about suspicious packages. Now we are afraid of each other.”

The newly revamped Bataclan concert hall, scene of the worst atrocity that horrific day, will reopen with a performance by British rock singer Sting on Saturday, the eve of the anniversary. Three gunmen killed 90 concertgoers before police shot the attackers dead.

It was one of serveral coordinated attacks that started in the northern outskirts of Paris, near the national sports stadium, the Stade de France, where three suicide bombers blew themselves up during a soccer match. Shortly after that, another team of Kalashnikov-wielding assailants went on the rampage, targeting cafes and restaurants in the heart of the capital.

The sole surviving suspect, Belgian-born French national Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in Brussels in March and extradited to Paris, where he remains in custody.

"In re-opening the Bataclan, we have two important tasks to reconcile,” Sting said in a statement. “First, to remember and honor those who lost their lives in the attack a year ago. Second, to celebrate the life and the music that this historic theater represents.”

Dutillieux, who is a regular customer at the Bataclan, was lucky to have been away on that gruesome night. But four of his colleagues lost their lives.

“I will never be able to go to the Bataclan as before,” he said. “I can imagine myself entering the hall, seeing all these bodies, this pool of blood. It will take a long time before things go back to normal, if it is possible at all that they do.”

The theater has been rebuilt from scratch exactly as it was, Bataclan director Jerome Langlet said. Workers gutted the hall, then restored the interior with new materials that were the same as the old.

“To make this reopening possible, we decided to change everything in a bid to change nothing,” Langlet said. “From the roof to the floor, the paints, the tiles, even the seats. We wanted to make sure nothing would stay behind from that evening.”

Renovation companies and artisans offered to help rebuild the music hall for free in a spirit of solidarity. “This shows once again that they (the terrorists) did not manage to divide us. This goodwill gave us the strength to move on,” he said.

But on Sunday, the Bataclan’s doors will remain shut, its lights will be turned off, and the hall will be silent for a day. “We shall never forget the victims,” Langlet said. “We shall continue to mourn.”

The government also will unveil a website displaying the 7,000 placards, drawings and other tributes collected at the memorial sites that sprung up after the attacks.

France is certainly not yet back to normal. An ongoing state of emergency had drawn around 100,000 security forces — including police, gendarmes and armed soldiers — to the capital and other major cities.

In unfortunate timing, President François Hollande had announced the end of the state of emergency on July 14, the day a truck driver inspired by the Islamic State mowed down revelers attending Bastille Day celebrations in the resort city of Nice, killing 86 people.

The security measures aimed to make French citizens feel secure failed, political analyst Christophe Barbier said. “We still don’t know how to prevent attacks.”

As a deterrent, stores, movie theaters, stadiums and museums have tightened security by hiring guards, checking bags and using metal detectors.

"We are all suspects,” complained Dutillieux, who chafes at his loss of privacy. “That’s what I find mind-blogging.”

As France heads toward presidential elections next year, the issue of security is paramount. “There is a will (by politicians) to ... appear tougher than one's rivals,” Barbier said.

Barbier recounted how some opposition right-wing leaders recently called for “creating a French-style Guantanamo” prison — which the U.S. maintains for suspected terrorists — to lock up those designated by security officials as potential threats.

Pecquel denounces politicians who seek support by stoking hatred and fear among French citizens by demonizing Muslim migrants as the source of terrorism.

“That too terrifies me.”


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