'The battles of the Middle East have come to Paris with fighting in streets'
Published 21/11/2015 | 02:30
A grey fog hangs over Paris as winter closes in. Shrouded in a dark, all-consuming veil of gloom, the weather reflects the sombre tone in the city. It's bleak, it's dark, it's dull. It is miserable.
It's difficult to make out what lies ahead. In the haze, it's hard to tell what's coming at you. A feeling the people of Paris now know all too well.
"Who knows what will come next?" says taxi driver Auguste Lalique. "I don't know what will happen to Paris, to France or the world. It's all gone mad.
"I think these people will strike us again. They will hit us hard. It's only a matter of time before they re-emerge from the shadows to strike us again."
It is Friday afternoon, and the French capital is at a standstill, the streets packed with traffic.
"People are cycling or driving or taking taxis instead of public transport. They are afraid to go on the train or the bus, and it is sending traffic crazy. Yesterday [Thursday], it took me over two hours to travel just 13km," added Mr Lalique.
After one of the worst terror attacks ever on European soil, the world was left stunned by the senseless acts of murder. Isil claimed responsibility for the barbaric acts of unbridled violence - the aim was to bring Europe to its knees, attack the Western way of life and to watch "Paris ignite".
Across the young and vibrant 10th and 11th districts of Paris, where the trendy youth of the city live and socialise, they unleashed a hail of bullets at their unsuspecting victims.
As people dined on the terraces of the famous Parisian cafés, they were gunned down in cold blood. Bullet holes can still be seen in the windows and walls, and blood that was spilt remains on the streets surrounded by countless candles and flowers.
In front of Le Carillon restaurant where 18 people perished, a spray of bullet holes pebbledash the whitewashed wall. A dried pool of blood lays where they end. Close by, 89 music lovers were assassinated at the Bataclan Theatre where US rock band Eagles Of Death Metal had been entertaining a sell-out crowd of 1,500.
It has plunged France into what President François Hollande has branded as a "war". The French people are calling it a "civil war".
"The problem is that these people are French nationals, and they are European nationals. They have our stars on their passports and our flags and emblems," said one worried man who did not wish to be named.
"The battles in the Middle East have come to Paris, and there is explosions and fighting on the streets. It is just like Syria and Iraq; people are being killed and shot and blown up.
"There was a massive battle on the street in Saint Denis on Wednesday.
"A battle here in Paris … it is unbelievable.
"It is a war we are fighting; it is a civil war against some of our own. It is against the people living here. It is a very scary thing but we just have to continue," he added.
Children were left crying in their beds amid the crackle of bullets as the vibrations of explosions shook their city for the second time in Saint Denis.
This time, it was the police firing their weapons. They were searching for the masterminds who had hunted down and killed innocent people on the street nights before.
On Wednesday, the hunters became the hunted. After a fierce seven-hour gun and grenade battle, they managed to arrest five people and "neutralise" three others.
Witnesses who live on the small street just off the main thoroughfare in Saint Denis where the events unfolded said they thought that they were "under attack" during the siege, in which 5,000 bullets were fired and dozens of grenades were thrown.
Terrified father Youis Jaballah said his 10-year-old son was almost inconsolable after being woken up by the fierce battle happening just outside his bedroom window.
"But I told him not to be afraid, that it was the police, and they are here for our safety," he told the Irish Independent following the ordeal.
Police say that the siege with the terror cell thwarted another imminent attack on the city's main business district, La Defense, and its international airport, Charles De Gaulle.
At the busting international flight hub yesterday, the mood was wary but calm, as soldiers carried their weapons of war through the departure halls.
Last Saturday, in the wake of the attacks, the airport was bursting at the seams as terrified tourists tried to flee the city.
Among them was Carlow man Keelan Brennan (22), who had been inside the Stade De France watching France's clash with Germany when two suicide bombers detonated their vests outside.
"We are getting out of here," he said last week.
"We are meant to be staying for a few more days, but we just don't feel safe."
Yesterday an Irish family were returning home from a three-day stay in Euro Disney where they said they felt "no fear at all".
"We felt very safe. We had no problem coming. We had to delay our trip for one day because the park was closed for the obvious security reasons, but we felt completely fine," they said.
But in Paris, the city has become a canvas for heartbreak.
Artists reeling in grief have been unveiling works inspired by the sorrow and barbarity of the attacks.
Large hand-drawn works have appeared in areas surrounding the Bataclan that depict star-crossed lovers in a passionate embrace, both with single gunshot wounds to the chest.
A single guitar has been placed nearby.
Written across the instrument's polished body are the words: "Keep on rocking in the free world."