Fire and Brimstone Come to Paris

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Panic in Paris ‘Everyone was smiling and dancing. And then the men came... and began the shooting’
Panic in Paris ‘Everyone was smiling and dancing. And then the men came… and began the shooting’

Security experts lauded the decision and said there could have been untold damage had the fans panicked and left the stadium earlier than they did. Two more attackers blew themselves up, probably realising their plan had been foiled. A combination of strict security, modern stadium infrastructure and bad planning by the assailants probably saved hundreds of lives. Only one passerby was killed after being hit by shrapnel from the suicide vest. “There was no panic, no stampede, it could have been a disaster,” said Jeremy Owen, who was watching the match with his nine-year-old son. The crowd filed out slowly, singing the Marseillaise, the French national anthem.

Parisians who had gathered that evening at a cluster of bars and restaurants in the 10th and 11th arrondissements, close to the city centre, were not so lucky. Even as the drama unfolded at the stadium, gunmen opened fire on people inside Le Carillon and sprayed bullets at diners on the terrace of Le Petit Cambodge, a Cambodian restaurant nearby. Fourteen people were killed. Five more were shot at a pizzeria, La Casa Nostra, a few hundred metres away, while 18 people lost their lives after two men emptied their machine guns at the Belle Equipe bar, in the 11th arrondissement.

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But the worst attack, which left 89 dead and involved a hostage standoff that lasted more than two hours, came at the Bataclan concert hall on Boulevard Voltaire, also in the 11th. Three gunmen burst into the historic concert venue (filled to capacity with more than 1,000 people) with cries of Allah ho Akbar, an hour after the US band Eagles of Death Metal took the stage, eyewitnesses report. “You never think it will happen to you. It was just a Friday night at a rock show,” wrote Isobel Bowdery, a 22-year-old girl who was attending the concert with her boyfriend and described the ordeal on Facebook, shared over 500,000 times. Bowdery, one of the many who lay among a mass of dead bodies and pretended to be dead while the gunmen shot those around her, posted a picture of her blood-stained t-shirt. “The atmosphere was happy and everyone was dancing and smiling,” she wrote. “And then when the men came through the front entrance and began the shooting, we naively believed it was all part of the show.”

While more tales of horror at the Bataclan emerge, there are also stories of the heroes who put aside their own fears to help those around them survive the night, if they were lucky enough. A man identified only as “Bruno” risked his own life to save a woman he didn’t know, by “hiding her under chairs and shielding her with his own body,” her husband Clément said. A pregnant woman survived by hanging from a railing outside a first-floor window. A police officer likened the scene at the concert to “something from Dante’s Hell”. He said the stench of the dead was unbearable, the silence appalling, interrupted only by the ringing of cellphones and relatives and friends desperately trying to reach their loved ones on that tragic night.

But Parisians, like New Yorkers, are not easily held hostage indoors. Many friends in Paris said they preferred to stay indoors on Saturday night, sharing their grief over intimate dinners. Though a police order has suspended their freedom to congregate in large numbers, as they had after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Parisians spilled onto the streets on Sunday, and before too long, the area worst hit became the site of several makeshift memorials. Candles and flower bouquets burgeoned on the pavements near the Le Carillon bar, and a rose was stuffed into one of the bullet holes that had riddled the windows of Le Petit Cambodge across the street. People congregated in small groups at the Place de la Republique and even filled the terraces of nearby bars that stayed defiantly open, as if to cock a snook at those who had tried to attack the very essence of what it meant to enjoy the freedoms of one of the world’s greatest cities. On Sunday afternoon, Mandakini Narain and her husband, filmmaker Vijay Singh, visited the Place de la Republique, joining hundreds of others to pay their respects to the victims. “After a solemn and moving visit to where the massacres had taken place, we decided to stop for drinks at the Café La Marine on Canal Saint Martin,” Narain recalls. “Suddenly somebody shouted ‘Couchez-vous (get on the floor!)’ and we all responded, except, luckily for us, it was only a false alarm.”

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With an eighth attacker and a Belgian militant, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, believed to be the mastermind of the 13/11 attacks, still at large, uncertainty about where the terrorists will strike next continues to grow. France has called for a global coalition to defeat the Islamic State and has launched three massive airstrikes on Raqqa, the de facto Islamic State stronghold in northern Syria, in retaliation for the Paris attacks. The attacks came just a day after the IS claimed credit for a double attack in southern Beirut that killed at least 43 people, and two weeks after the group claimed responsibility for bringing down a Russian airliner over the Sinai peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.

Mira Kamdar, global affairs expert and author, and a Paris-based member of the International New York Times editorial board, has expressed concern over France’s announcement that the state of Emergency declared following the attacks will be extended by three months. “France seems to be following a textbook script for what countries do after a terrorist attack,” she tells Tehelka, echoing the concerns of many liberal French citizens.

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