No one got out of the Batalan untouched - not even the survivors

By Michael Fitzpatrick - RFI
Europe © Thomas Coex, AFP
OCT 19, 2021 LISTEN
© Thomas Coex, AFP

Few of the witnesses who chose to go to the Bataclan concert on 13th of November 2015 from the right-hand balcony were seriously injured physically in the terrorist attack. But what they saw, heard and suffered has left none of them untouched. They have been describing their experiences.

Monday's testimony before the special criminal court, where 20 men are being tried for their alleged participation on the November 2015 attacks, began with a succession of couples. Partners, husbands and wives, a supportive friend standing silently beside a bear-like man with tears in his voice.

For various reasons, all had chosen to watch the concert from the seating area on the Bataclan's right-hand balcony, overlooking the main floor. When the attack began, they saw and heard the wave of panic which engulfed the crowd on the main floor below.

Driven along the balcony towards the stage by the fear that one or more terrorists would come up and start murdering them, the group found itself trapped in a dead end. They had the option of taking refuge in a small dressing room and toilet, or climbing through a ventilation shaft onto the roof.

A hole punched by one of the escapees in the toilet ceiling gave access to the roof space.

The escapees included a little boy and his mother. Everyone agreed that they should go first, followed by the women, with the strongest men helping the others.

Every witness spoke of the spirit of selfless solidarity which prevailed, despite the uninterrupted noise of gunshots coming from the hall below.

One woman explained that she tried to climb through the hole in the false ceiling of the dressing-room toilet, but could not manage because of her "corpulence". Two more men stepped forward and, with four aiding from below, two above, she was finally brought to relative safety in the attic space over the stage.

Standing beside her in court on Monday, her partner was unable to repress a wry smile, remarking that there had been no complaints from the others, no impatience, just help and encouragement. "There was a lot of humanity in that little room.

"Plus, she walked on my head," he added, smiling even more.

The woman spoke of the wonderful smell of the Paris air when the police finally brought them out to safety, early on the Sunday morning, the little boy safe in the arms of a policeman who draped his protective face mask over the child's head to prevent him from seeing the carnage.

A welcome visit
Once the couple were interviewed by the police, they were let go home. The husband drove but has no idea how he managed it.

A Muslim neighbour was among their first visitors.
"She was distraught, tearfully unable to express her incomprehension that such acts could be committed in the name of Allah.

"She begged our forgiveness. We hugged and cried together. I told her she had nothing to apologise for, that no one could confuse decent, ordinary Muslims with Islamist killers.

"That woman's gesture, and her subsequent support for our family, helped us to survive."

The husband ended his testimony by saying he was happy that justice would be administered impartially, that he had no need for vengeance or reparation.

"Let this court do its work, and then," he said, with a gesture towards the accused, "let's forget their names forever."

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