‘I don’t have any more tears. I just have hatred’: A stunned Paris responds to deadly terror attacks

PARIS – At the Place de la République, its monument still adorned with “Je suis Charlie” posters from the city’s previous deadly terror attack, police periodically ordered the hundreds gathered in response to Friday’s carnage to disperse “for security reasons.”

And nobody paid any attention.

They had come with candles and flowers to mourn strangers and loved ones and to send a message that Kalashnikov-wielding terrorists cannot vanquish the values of liberty, equality and fraternity inscribed on the monument’s white stone.

“We have to continue as before,” said Ghislaine Delagnes, who came into the city from her suburban home in a show of solidarity. “We must not be scared.”

The state of emergency declared by French President François Hollande after gunmen killed at least 129 people Friday night prohibits large gatherings like the spontaneous one Saturday at Place de la République for fear of creating an easy target for other terrorists.

JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty ImagesJOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty ImagesTOPSHOTS People light candles at a makeshift memorial in tribute to the victims of the Paris' attacks on November 14, 2015 at the place de la Republique in Paris.

And many are understandably scared of what could come next. The normally bustling Paris streets are very relatively deserted, with one taxi driver estimating the foot traffic at 10 per cent of a typical Saturday. Many stores, restaurants, movie houses and tourist attractions – including the Eiffel Tower and Louvre – closed. “We are sorry to inform you that our store will be exceptionally closed today,” read signs on the massive Galéries Lafayette Haussmann department store.

Ivan Gradinarski and Preslav Penchev, two 20-year-old students, live on the street that the Bataclan concert hall backs onto. On Friday, gunmen stormed the theatre during a heavy metal rock concert and killed more than 100 people. The students heard the gunfire, screams and explosions and barred their door in terror; on Saturday, when they ventured out for groceries, they found their building’s walls, stairwells and elevator soaked in blood from the injured who had taken refuge. They planned to spend Saturday evening at a friend’s. “We’re a little afraid of walking around,” Gradinarski said.

The bar Pop In is within a short walk of both the Bataclan and the former offices of Charlie Hebdo, where two gunmen killed 12 people last January. It was shuttered Saturday, and its owner, Denis Quelard, said an association representing Paris music venues had instructed them all to close. In any case, the acts he had booked for Saturday night told him they did not want to perform after Friday’s terror attacks.

“There is fear,” Quelard said. “They target anything, driven by a desire to kill as many people as possible. . . . Of course it’s frightening.”

The randomness of Friday’s violence was in evidence Saturday at a quiet corner near the Place de la République. Inside the Casa Nostra pizza restaurant, owner Dimitri Mohmadi pointed out the bullet holes pocking the wall, bar and stairwell. The glass covering the large menu that had been outside was shattered by three bullets, and Mohmadi said the metal back of the menu display saved the lives of two customers who hid behind it.

Graeme Hamilton / National PostGraeme Hamilton / National Post

At an un-cleared corner table, just beside where one bullet ripped a hole in the plaster at head level, a slice of uneaten pizza sat on a plate, left by a fleeing customer.

Mohmadi was not there when two gunmen jumped out of a car and began spraying both sides of the street with bullets Friday night, but he spoke on Saturday just after viewing his restaurant’s security video of the attack with police.

He described a tall, thin, young man, with his face uncovered calmly firing into his restaurant, creating a din like fireworks. “It’s shocking to see the video,” he said. “I saw the guy with the Kalashnikov, machine-gunning people, they were falling to the ground everywhere. It was unbelievable.” At one point the gunman returned as if he was going to execute two women lying on the restaurant terrace but he left without firing again.

Mohmadi said the gunman’s face was clearly visible in the video. Police told him they did not know whether he was among the dead attackers. Mohmadi immigrated from Algeria 20 years ago, where he said he had been beaten and shot at by terrorists, but nothing he experienced in his native country compared to Friday’s attacks.

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The fact that he is Muslim is irrelevant to the jihadis behind the French attacks, he said: “Those people don’t care whether we are Muslim or Christian. They just came to kill.”

Three Casa Nostra victims suffered non-life-threatening gunshot wounds, he said, but across the street the toll was heavier: five dead. Inside a space on the sidewalk marked with tape, a note read, “A person died. Respect this space.” The windows of a laundromat were blown out and those of a brasserie were riddled with at least a dozen bullet holes.

Rico, who declined to give his last name, said he learned Saturday morning that Jean-François, 28, a friend so close he was like a brother, had been killed at this corner. “He asked me to join him for a drink but I was working,” he said.

He raged against the killers. “He wasn’t killed. He was massacred. It was butchery,” he said. “I don’t have any more tears. I just have hatred.”

Graeme Hamilton / National PostGraeme Hamilton / National PostMuriel Hallaf (right) places flowers at a memorial near the Bataclat as two other women embrace

Muriel Hallaf rode a nearly deserted metro from her home on the outskirts of Paris Saturday to leave flowers at a memorial near the Bataclan.

“It’s in homage to the dead, for the injured and the families, and also for the values of the Republic,” she said. A nurse, she said walking the streets of central Paris left her with the impression people were anesthetized.

“We can’t stop living,” she said. She cited liberty, tolerance, respect and democracy as the values that must be defended in the face of terrorism. Her husband is from North Africa and she worries he and their three daughters will feel the effects of a backlash against Muslims.

After surveying the damage at the Bataclan early Saturday, Hollande declared that France would “lead a war which will be pitiless” in response.

But Hallaf questioned how you fight a war against hidden enemies prepared to kill themselves in the name of a twisted view of religion. “It’s their brains that we have to battle,” she said. “They are sick. They are mentally ill.”

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