Sunday 22 September 2019

I could not say 'Je Suis Charlie' - but this attack is different

An armed French gendarme stands guard during the control of vehicles at the French-Swiss border in Divonne-les-Bains, near Geneva,
An armed French gendarme stands guard during the control of vehicles at the French-Swiss border in Divonne-les-Bains, near Geneva,
A photograph of a victim outside the Bataclan theatre in Paris

Shona Murray

Just two kilometres from the centre of Saint-Denis, deep blood stains lay on the ground at the Stade de France - the work of two suicide bombers who killed four people and injured scores more.

One of Paris's most ethnically diverse and also impoverished suburbs, the locals in Saint-Denis were still asleep when the pre-dawn raid by French security services set upon a grotty little squat-cum-apartment in Rue du Corbillon, a tiny side street of one of the town's main plazas.

More than 50 military personnel and over 100 members of France's elite police forces arrived at the apartment at around 4.30am on Wednesday for a siege that would last seven hours. By the time it was over, Europe had its first female suicide bomber, four days after its worst ever terrorist attack.

"I live 200 metres from the house; I woke up with bullets and what sounded like a bomb; it was incredible," said Khalid, born in Saint-Denis, with Algerian descent.

Given the stealth of the operation, it was clear that French authorities had a specific target in mind: Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Salah Abdeslam, the masterminds of last Friday's attack.

The fact that jihadists could be hiding out on a little side street off rue de la république, one of the main plazas - is in itself astonishing.

Saint-Denis was always likely to be a target for police raids in the midst of lightening advances on targets throughout France and Belgium. It has one of the highest Arab populations, and like many of Paris's banlieues has been a frontier of anti-social behaviour and social unrest.

In many way this was caused by isolation and a feeling of "otherness" - coming from former French colonies and not being seen as culturally French.

"These young men, they have no money, they fight, they go to prison, and they come out and they are very stressed; they can't handle their lives here in France", says Kalid.

The streets of Saint-Denis are dotted with groups of young males at all times of day or night. Nasser, who sits amongst a group of four men from Algeria, demands to see identification to prove he's not been tricked into speaking to a member of the police or French se curity.

"People who come from the colonies have no money, and no opportunities; and if you express your religion, you are not really French," he tells the Irish Independent.

"If you are African origin or from the Maghreb, you are treated differently", said the 36-year-old who came to France from Algeria when he was aged just one.

"After Charlie Hebdo, people were saying 'Je suis Charlie', but I could not say that - I was not Charlie.

"Those guys (at Charlie Hebdo) were offending God, and they should not have been doing that. But this is different. We are all concerned about this attack. Last Friday was a massive attack - upon everyone."

Meanwhile, others are worried about the depth of the terror cells in Europe, France and in their own neighbourhood.

Reza (34) from Algeria explained, "You have many, many young men that are radicalised. And now it is going to be very difficult for Muslims in the rest of Paris. I am Muslim, yes, but I support the republic."

Irish Independent

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