November attacks survivor: 'I'm living for those I heard die that night'

·4-min read

The evidence from victims and bereaved families continues at the Paris trial of the 20 men accused of complicity in the November 2015 terrorist attacks. Everyone in the vast courtroom has been affected by the generally quiet dignity of the grieving relatives. Some of the accused have already felt the need to respond.

The stories are all different, even if the basic details remain the same.

On Thursday, we heard from a brother who threw himself on his sister, and was then shot three times outside the Petit Cambodge restaurant. Both survived. Those are the facts.

But they don't tell the whole story.

'The dark places of division'

He was a professional rugby player, well-established in the Italian first division, hoping to return to the French international colours he had already earned at every level of the youth game.

With five ribs and an ankle pulverised by the terrorists' machine guns, it took months of agony before this engaging young giant accepted that he would never again play the game he loves.

His sister is a professional circus performer. She was shot in the arm and no longer has any feeling in her left hand.

Determined not to let what she called "this episode" ruin her life, she re-imagined her act to get around the handicap.

The family philosophy is quite simple: do what you can, and don't waste time regretting what you can't.

The brother said he had no anger against anyone. "I wonder how they could have done what they did, but I'm determined to send out a strong message.

"I'm living for those I heard die that night.

"This trial makes me proud to be French. It is an attempt to bring light to the dark places of division. I offer my few words to this great edifice of justice."

The court president thanked the witness, the normally laconic Jean-Louis Périès repeating the word "beaucoup" four times.

Another man, injured and bereaved at the Petit Cambodge, also stressed his determination to avoid the trap of anger.

"I refuse to lapse into a life of hatred," he said, with a glance in the direction of the prisoners in their glass box.

"Hatred sticks to you. With all due respect, gentlemen, I will not have you in my head."

One witness, injured at La Bonne Bière, looked directly at the box and offered forgiveness, provided the accused had the courage to ask for pardon and "act like men".

We heard from a mother who lost her twin daughters at the Carillon. They were brilliant young women, not yet 30, "who were," we were told, "against racism, sectarianism and intolerance. They were easy targets. All that's left are some photographs and the memories. I don't understand."

And there was the woman whose sister was shot in her car as the pair waited behind the terrorist vehicle blocking the road outside the Carillon.

The witness and her five-year-old son were physically unharmed. The sister died in a hail of bullets.

She explained to the court that she and her family were Muslims, adding "the people who did this are not Muslims. Our version of Islam says it is wrong to kill."

Targeting 'unbelievers'

At which point Salah Abdeslam, the only survivor of the killing squads who sowed terror across Paris on the night of 13 November 2015, asked to be allowed to address the court.

"Our targets were the unbelievers," Abdeslam announced. "If we killed Muslims, it was not our intention.

"I have listened to the evidence. I understand that people are suffering. I'm sure they are good people, with qualities . . . et cetera.

"But there were lots of victims on our side too, in Syria, in Iraq, killed by coalition airstrikes."

"You've already made that point," the court president reminded the suspect.

"I just want to tell the witness that we were not after Muslims and that, if her sister is dead, it was an . . . accident."

"An accident?" shouted the generally imperturbable Jean-Louis Périès.

There followed a verbal face-off between the witness and the accused man, with the court president struggling to restore calm.

There was to be one further intervention from the prisoners' dock.

Yassine Atar, the brother of the man believed to have masterminded the November attacks, rose to express his sympathy with the bereaved families.

"I am deeply touched by what I have heard. I couldn't sleep last night. I want people to know that there are those in this box who are profoundly hurt by what we are hearing.

"We are human beings. I speak to condemn these atrocities without reserve, and I ask the victims to believe in my sincere compassion."

The trial continues.

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