Bataclan survivors offer accounts of a night of violence, horror - and heroism

·2-min read

The fifth week of the Paris trial of the 20 men accused of involvement in the November 2015 attacks was marked by the start of hearings of the evidence from survivors of the Bataclan, the concert venue where 90 of the 130 victims died.

Six years is a short time on the scale of human grief. The visible wounds have healed, but people are still crying, still broken, still terribly hurt.

Heroism and self-sacrifice

The five weeks of the trial so far have occasionally been illuminated by accounts of heroism, of self-sacrifice. There have even been moments of humour.

But the predominant tone is a mixture of profound grief, guilt and incomprehension.

The Bataclan survivors suffered the longest of the Paris victims, some spending two hours on the floor of the concert hall, injured themselves, surrounded by the dead and dying, unable to move for fear of being picked off by the killers.

They were attacked from behind, confused by the contradictory noises of a rock concert and an armed assault, suddenly facing the unimaginable . . . a jihadist attack in central Paris.

There was total panic. People died in the rush for the exits. Couples were separated, some forever.

One woman decided to stay with the man she loved, he having been shot in the chest. As she held him and tried to ease his breathing, one of the terrorists shot her in both legs. As the killer stood over her, preparing to fire a fatal blast, she asked him to stop, and he did.

Tragically, the man she described as "the love of her life" died in her arms. She almost bled to death herself.

Today, the witness can walk. Exhausted by the need to re-establish her mental health, she has not been able to return to work. She remains in constant need of pain-killers.

Through tears, she assured the court that she feels no anger, no desire for vengeance. Her hope is for peace and pardon.

'Blind inhumanity of the assassins'

Not everyone was so conciliatory.

One witness spoke of the "blind inhumanity of the assassins", wondering how men could behave in such a way.

Another described the murderers as "lamentable little thugs, acting without conviction".

A man who lost his brother at the Bataclan felt the killers were beneath his contempt. "I came expecting to see warriors," he said. "But that's not what they are."

The president of the tribunal, Jean-Louis Périès, has been obliged to remind the court that the men being tried are, for the moment, suspects and must, therefore, benefit from the presumption of innocence.

The trial continues at the special criminal court in Paris, with the schedule of hearings likely to face reorganisation to accommodate the ever-increasing number of survivors and bereaved family members who wish to testify.

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