Tuesday 6 December 2016

'They have not beaten our spirits - today we take back the streets'

Adam Cullen and Mark Condren in Paris

Published 18/11/2015 | 02:30

Local woman Malou in front of the monument in the Place de la République in Paris.
Local woman Malou in front of the monument in the Place de la République in Paris.
Afar Korchi (22) outside the Grand Mosque. Photos: Mark Condren

There are tales of lucky escapes and near misses. Of what-ifs and what-might-have-beens. For every story of horror, there is one of hope, or even of sheer blind luck.

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A damaged back saved one Irishman from the horror of the Bataclan terror attacks.

Mark Daly, from Ennis, was to go to the Eagles of Death Metal concert in the theatre the night of the attack. "I had slipped and hurt my back and my girlfriend had just had her wisdom teeth taken out that Friday," he said. "We didn't feel up to going and sat in instead."

The couple, who have lived in Paris for years, said they felt "incredibly lucky". But they stressed they had been left shaken by the atrocity.

"We have friends from our area who were there. It is just awful. It could have been us."

Paris is wakening from the horror that gripped it over the weekend. The streets that have been sealed off since Friday have reopened to traffic. And the market stalls along the banks of the canal have begun to trade their wares once more.

Less than a stone's throw away from the Bataclan Theatre, droves of Parisians are flocking to buy their fresh fruit, fish and cheese. Directly across the road, hundreds still stream by to lay flowers and pause in silent reflection to remember the some 89 souls who perished four nights before.

There is a hustle and bustle, and the streets are finally starting to return to life. Restaurants and shops that have lain behind police tape for days hear cash registers ring.

Flocks of tourists can also be seen parading along the tree-lined promenade, the click, click, click of their suitcase wheels hopping along the cobblestones.

"It is fantastic to see our city, my city, come alive again," said a 21-year-old local woman who would give only her first name, Malou. "We cannot hide behind our doors any longer. It is time to regain our streets. Did these Islamic State terrorists scare us? "Yes they did. Are we still afraid? Yes, we are. They have succeeded in their threat of fear, but they will not succeed in beating our spirits. Today is the day we take back the streets," she said in the shadow of the giant monument in the Place de la République.

Not far away, on a quiet suburban street south of the Seine, there is an entirely different mood. Heavily armed policemen stand on every corner surrounding the city's Grand Mosque.

Plain-clothed officers with earpieces and guns tucked inside their suit jackets stand guard also. A Ford Mondeo pulls up to the curb. The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, steps out and is greeted by the mosque elders.

Soon after, the police become more alert, issuing signals towards their colleagues. "One minute," says an officer, ahead of the arrival of former French prime minister Alain Juppé.

He is ushered into the stunning white temple.

Outside on the pavement, a bearded Muslim is irritated at the small media presence.

"Why are you here? Why are you at this Mosque?" he asks. "There are no terrorists here."

Afar Korchi (22) shares his opinions: "What these men did was not Islam. It was not in the name of our religion.

"It is a terrible thing. I hope the world does not punish us for their actions.

"Thankfully, the people of this great city have not shown any indifference towards us. We all want peace."

Irish Independent

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