Monday 23 September 2019

'Paris has been wounded but it won't die'

As France mourns its dead, thousands gather in a show of defiance to the killers

Zaina Chatharoo at a public gathering outside the Stade De France in Paris
Zaina Chatharoo at a public gathering outside the Stade De France in Paris
A mourner outside the Bataclan theatre in Paris
A painting outside the Bataclan theatre in Paris
Mourners reflect on the city's great loss at floral tributes outside the Bataclan theatre in Paris

Adam Cullen

A fresh wave of panic and terror swept through Paris as police revealed the city had been just days away from another crippling attack.

A siege in northern Paris on Wednesday uncovered an arsenal of deadly weapons and possible plans for another onslaught of mayhem.

This time the city's main business district and the Charles De Gaule International Airport were to be the targets.

The mastermind behind last Friday's merciless atrocities that saw 129 people murdered and over 350 people injured, was killed during a fierce seven-hour gun battle with police in Saint-Denis.

Elite police stormed the secret hideout of Islamic State terror boss Abdelhamid Abaaoud (28) in the quiet Parisian suburb close to the Stade De France stadium where his associates had blown themselves up just days before.

Yesterday, in a sheer act of defiance, thousands gathered beneath the shadow of France's national stadium where IS terrorists had detonated their suicide vests.

Led by the Mayor of Saint Denis, Didier Paillard, and the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, locals came out in force to show they "will not be afraid."

Some 34 police buses lined the avenue behind the Stade De France where heavily armed security personnel almost outnumbered civilians.

Despite a ban on public rallies and meetings by French President Francois Hollande the people of Paris defiantly sent a message to those who had "changed their city forever."

"Paris is a different place now; it has changed forever. We have been wounded but we won't die," said Saint-Denis woman Maria LeBon.

Clutching a single white rose, Ms LeBon said that it was time to claim back the streets of the capital.

"We are all here tonight; we are all showing our roses. This is a symbol of beauty and purity.

"This is to show what Paris once was and what it will be again," she said.

"We will not be afraid. These men lived close to me. All the time they were hatching this evil scheme under our noses.

"We will show them. We will reclaim our streets.

"Our fear is they will hit a shopping mall now close to our Christmas celebrations. But we will not let that stop us buying gifts for our children," she added.

The mood in, La Défense, the city's main business district, was on a knife-edge yesterday after Paris prosecutor Francois Molins revealed the main financial hub of the city was a target for future attacks.

Standing agaomst the backdrop of glistening glass skyscrapers, UK businessman Colin Benn said he felt nervous when travelling on the Metro.

"I spend about two weeks a month here and I arrived yesterday. The mood here is very different knowing we could be just days away from an attack," he said.

"People are definitely nervous. I even got off the Metro today after I saw a guy I didn't like the look of.

"People are definitely nervous. It is all anyone is talking about," he said.

Ines Badra (21) said she was also nervous about using the Metro while travelling to work, fearing an attack.

"Thousands and thousands of people work here. As you can see from all the sky scrapers, some of the biggest companies in the world come here. We also have a big university here. An attack like the ones in the 11th and 10th districts would obviously be devastating," said the young office worker.

"Travelling to work today was so stressful. Everyone on the Metro and busses are so nervous.

"It is terrible. Paris was just slowly starting to get back to normal. And now the fear level has risen again," she added.

Sergio Mensah said he was going out of his way to avoid public transport and gatherings in public places.

Speaking just around the corner from the old Charlie Hebdo office were 12 people were killed in January, he said he has become accustomed to living in fear.

"This is something you get used to," he said. "My school is here beside where the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo used to draw. As you can see, this area was never the same again. The streets are quiet. There is no life. Paris will never be the same again."

Irish Independent

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