Paris attack survivors relive horror of 'playing dead' at Bataclan

Survivors of two-hour attack and abductions at concert venue in 2015 testify at trial

Survivors of the 2015 massacre at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris have told a trial that they "played dead" for hours to avoid being shot.

A total of 130 people were killed in synchronised suicide bombings and shootings at venues across Paris on the night of November 13, including 90 fans watching US band Eagles of Death Metal at the Bataclan.

Twenty people are on trial over the bloodshed, including the sole surviving member of the ISIS cell behind the attacks, Salah Abdeslam. Most face life sentences if convicted.

The court on Wednesday heard the harrowing accounts of some who survived the more than two-hour attack at the Bataclan.

Irmine, 55, was the first to take the stand. Her friend Fabian was among the first to be shot dead when three attackers burst into the venue and opened fire with automatic weapons.

Irmine said she heard one of the assailants, who had "a rather high-pitched, almost child-like voice, shouting 'France has no business being in Syria', and then 'I'll kill the first person who moves'."

She said she was lying on the floor in the dark and "wanted the ground to swallow me up".

After "maybe half an hour", Irmine said she heard the Bataclan's security chief order everyone to "leave quickly, they're reloading their weapons".

On the way out, she saw Fabian lying on the ground, recognisable only by "his raincoat, his legs and his shoes".

Irmine said she tried in vain to drag his body out of the theatre. She escaped with minor injuries.

"I was very lucky, the bullets just grazed my chest," she said.

Helen, 49, an American, testified about losing "the love of my life", British boyfriend Nick Alexander.

When the shooting began, Nick, who was selling merchandise for Eagles of Death Metal, "grabs me, throws me to the ground and saves my life". But he was shot.

"We hold each other's hands and I tell him, 'I love you, I'm not leaving you'," Helen said.

After another salvo was fired, she felt a burning sensation in her legs and asked Nick if he had been hit too. He had.

"He starts telling me 'I'm struggling to breathe', and then 'I can no longer breathe'."

"I take him in my arms and realise that we are lying in a pool of blood," Helen said, sobbing.

Jean-Marc, 40, had just slipped out of the concert to smoke a cigarette when he found himself face-to-face with the gunmen.

"I saw people around me hit by the bullets," he told the court, in a trembling voice. "Everyone started screaming and falling, either because they had been hit or were swept off their feet in the surge."

Jean-Marc also fell to the ground, where he remained for the next two hours.

With his face pressed to the floor, he could not see the rest of the horror unfold, but he could see the feet of one of the gunmen near by.

"I felt the bullet casings fall on my head," Jean-Marc said. "We were completely powerless, not knowing whether we were going to be the next ones to take a bullet or not.

"It's so inhuman. The aim was to leave permanent scars."

Cedric, 41, said he also played dead while the horror unfolded.

"I tried to melt into the floor," the former delivery driver said. "They were shooting at us like rabbits, whenever a phone rang or someone called out for help."

Cedric's right leg was crushed in the crowd, leaving him unable to run to this day.

He told of his struggle with "survivor's guilt" and with the images that continue to haunt him.

On the map of the concert hall shown on a big screen, he pointed to various sites that remain etched in his memory.

They included the spot where a person lay dying while looking him straight in the eye, and another where a person was drowning in their own blood.

Addressing Abdeslam and the other defendants in the dock, he asked: "You gentlemen who have waged [terrorist acts], have you seen people die staring you in the eye?

"You attacked us but we are innocent and unarmed. You are angry with a state, but why are you angry with us?"

Updated: October 6th 2021, 9:19 PM
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