Survivors and victims' families tell of Paris attacks trauma

By Michael Fitzpatrick - RFI
MAY 21, 2022 LISTEN

Friday's session at the Special Criminal Court, where the Paris terror trial is taking place, continued to hear testimonies of the families of victims. They were followed at the bar by families who lost their homes and belongings in the police raid on the terrorist hide-out in Paris-Saint-Denis, days after the attacks, and who also claim the status of victims.

This was the last, long day of testimony from the bereaved.

We heard a man lament his lost brother, "a beautiful person", dead in the Bataclan.

A mother spoke on behalf of her son, an injured survivor "who will never be the same".

The language of struggle, the inability to sleep, to relax, the fear of public places, of large gatherings, the panic attacks, each survivor has the same story. And each story is different.

"Listening to the testimony of others has given me the strength to carry on," a bereaved mother told the court, describing her life since the death of her son in the Bataclan as "a physical, moral and intellectual swamp".

"Why are our children dead?"

Dramatic shift 

The emotional atmosphere in court shifted dramatically with the arrival of the first of the plaintifs whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the police raid on an apartment in rue du Corbillon, in the north Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.

This is where two of the terrace killers, Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Chakib Akrouh, took refuge after the attacks. Early on the morning of 18 november 2015, special police units launched an operation to arrest the two men.

The assault lasted eight hours and ended with the violent deaths of the two terrorists and of their accomplice, Hasna Ait Boulahcen. The building was badly damaged.

The police had no idea how many terrorists were in the block, nor where they were hiding. They knew that the men they had orders to arrest were heavily armed and desperate.

As the operation progressed, officers systematically arrested everyone they came across. There was no time for debate. Those who argued were constrained. One man lost several teeth trying to explain that he was a law-abiding resident.

All victims are equal . . .
He and a dozen of his neighbours came to the court on Friday, with their children, to ask that they be treated like the other victims, and compensated for their suffering.

There were 40 families living in the building at the time.

No one could reasonably question the reality of the trauma endured by these families, woken by armed men in the middle of the night, witnesses to a gun battle in which 5,000 rounds of ammunition were fired, subsequently rehoused because the attack rendered the building in rue du Corbillon structurally unsafe. 

French justice has already rejected the demand by some of these families to be considered as victims of the November 2015 terrorist attacks.

The trial continues next week, with the summing-up by lawyers representing the survivors and the families of the dead.

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