May 20, 2022

Kamala Harris, Prime Minister of France, lays wreaths six years after the Paris terrorist attacks

PARIS: US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex (pictured) laid wreaths at a Parisian cafe and at France’s national football stadium yesterday, six years after the deadly terrorist attacks that left 130 people dead

The attacks perpetrated by three separate teams of jihadists from the Islamic State group on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since the Second World War.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people outside cafes and a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the stadium gates in his suburb.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honoring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute’s silence at the Stade de France football stadium, alongside Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it very difficult,” said Bruno Poncet, who survived the Bataclan attack.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

“We really bonded through the trial,” he said.

“During previous commemorations, we spot each other from afar without really daring to talk to each other. We were really shy.

“But going to court really changed everything.”

Overcome everything

The marathon trial, the largest in modern French judicial history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants face sentences of up to life in prison, including the only attacker who was not shot dead by police, Salah Abdeslam, a Franco-Moroccan national captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings.

“I can’t not do it. It’s our lives that this room is about, and it’s important to come out and support others and try to get through it all.

Survivors went to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life after.

Many said they struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, struggled with survivor’s guilt, or even felt alienated from the rest of society.

Philippe Duperron, head of an association for victims of the attacks, said many more people had registered for a lunch after yesterday’s ceremony than in previous years.

“The trial has undoubtedly reinforced people’s need to be together,” he said.

The commemorations included a minute’s silence at a second football stadium, the Parc des Princes, before the evening kick-off of the France-Kazakhstan match.

A quarter of an hour into the game, a group of supporters unfurled a banner in tribute to the victims of the attacks. He said: “To our 131 stars of November 13”.

It was fifteen minutes into a football match between France and Germany at the Stade de France that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015, triggering the attacks.

Then-president Francois Hollande was among the crowd of 80,000, before being quietly taken away to avoid triggering a mass panic. —AFP