Wounded in 'body, heart and soul' by 'blind inhumanity' at the Bataclan

·4-min read

On Wednesday, at the Paris trial of the 20 men accused of complicity in the November 2015 terrorist attacks in the French capital, survivors from the Bataclan music venue, where 90 people lost their lives, began to recount their long night of terror and death.

This was the worst.

There is, of course, no hierarchy of horror. The single death of Manuel Dias at the Stade de France caused as much grief and is as much lamented as each individual death at the other places attacked by the jihadists on 13 November 2015.

But the sheer scale, not to mention the brutality, of the Bataclan massacre makes it stand out.

One woman said she had wounds "on her skin, her heart and her soul". Another spoke of the "blind inhumanity" of the killers.

Many of Wednesday's witnesses spoke of lying on the main floor of the concert hall, surrounded by the dead and dying, unable to move because the slightest sound or gesture provoked a blast of gunfire from the murderers.

"They shot us like rabbits. I heard someone choking on his blood, slowly dying."

So they lay there, holding the hands of friends, of strangers, powerless to do anything to help. Waiting for deliverance or death.

'They died looking at me'

One of the survivors had a question for the accused. He turned to the glass box which houses the suspects. "And you, gentlemen," he said, speaking calmly, "who have fought the jihad, have you ever looked into the eyes of someone slowly bleeding to death? They died looking at me.

"I understand your anger. But you didn't attack France," he continued, making reference to the oft-repeated Islamic State claim that the November killings were in revenge for civilian deaths caused by French aircraft in Syria. "You attacked innocent, unarmed people at a concert."

There was no response.

The court president, Jean-Louis Périès, did, however, have something to say: "Of course I understand the emotion of those who have come here to testify," he announced.

"But I have to remind the court, and all the witnesses, that these men are, for the moment, no more than suspects. Until this court issues a verdict, they must continue to benefit from the presumption of innocence. I ask you all to keep that in mind."

It was a powerful moment.

Smiling through the tears

The same witness told us he thought he had lost his wife in the carnage.

"I saw her in a group running towards an emergency exit. Then there were shots, people fell. I couldn't see her any more."

The witness wept as he explained how he ran around after the police arrived, looking at the stretchers with the wounded, the bodies on the footpath, searching for his wife.

And then he saw her, walking towards him, crying, physically unharmed. His expression, a tearful smile, as he re-lived that moment before the court, was painfully beautiful.

"It was the best moment of that evening. She's here today," he added, still weeping, still smiling.

'I didn't want to die in a shitty little room'

One young woman explained how, trapped with other escapees in a grimy dressing-room toilet, she punched her way through the ceiling and led the group of survivors who took refuge in the Bataclan attic.

"I didn't want to die in a shitty little room," she said, "and be all over the front page of the local paper."

Her bravery subsequently declined into dangerous denial, problems with alcohol, with her relationships, with her employer. At 30, she says she is now trying to start her life again, having been "robbed of the little pleasures of being able to live simply".

Harsh criticism of the press

Not for the first time, several witnesses complained about the way they had been harassed by journalists in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

"As we emerged from our ordeal, they were there with their flashes. They photographed us like monkeys in a cage."

The majority of Wednesday's Bataclan witnesses were wearing red identity cards, indicating that they are not prepared to speak to the press.

The trial continues, with the testimony of three of those scheduled to be heard on Wednesday carried over to Thursday's already crowded schedule. Over 350 witnesses have requested the right to speak, and there is a waiting list of at least 60 others.

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