France falls silent on fifth anniversary of Bataclan attacks

Prime Minister Jean Castex leads tributes to 130 people killed by ISIS extremists

France has fallen silent on the fifth anniversary of the 2015 terror attacks which killed 130 people.

ISIS extremists targeted the Bataclan concert halls, Paris cafes and the national stadium on the night of November 13.

It was France’s deadliest peacetime attack and deeply shook the country.

It led to intensified French military action against extremists abroad and a security crackdown at home.

Five years later, Prime Minister Jean Castex led silent ceremonies at the multiple sites targeted by the armed attackers around the French capital.

The public could not join this year’s commemorations due to coronavirus lockdown.

The ceremonies came as France is again on high alert for terrorist attacks after three Islamic extremist attacks since September killed four people.

France on edge five years on

Five years after gunfire shattered that balmy Friday night in 2015, the country is again on its highest security alert following a spate of attacks.

The sheer horror of the attacks left scars that have still not healed.

Modern France's attitude towards Islam remains an issue of burning controversy.

And the security threat to France has not diminished, security sources say, even if the nature of the risk has changed with attackers more likely to be lone extremists inspired by a deadly ideology than part of an organised group.

France still reeling from three attacks in the last weeks: a knife attack outside the former offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, the beheading of a teacher, and a deadly stabbing spree at a Nice church.

"You might think that the threat has faded into the background as other problems emerged," a French security source told AFP.

"But in reality, the figures show that it has remained high since 2015."

French Prime Minister Jean Castex, center, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, 3rd right, participate in a wreath laying ceremony, marking the 5th anniversary of the Nov. 13, 2015 attacks outside the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. In silence and mourning, France is marking five years since 130 people were killed by Islamic State extremists who targeted the Bataclan concert hall, Paris cafes and the national stadium. (Christophe Archambault/Pool Photo via AP)

In the last five years, 20 attacks have been carried out on French soil, 19 plots failed and 61 were foiled.

There has been an increasing trend of attacks being carried out by isolated individuals, previously unknown to the intelligence services, who are inspired by jihadist propaganda and carry out attacks with weapons needing little preparation.

But the threat of an attack planned from outside France - as was the case on November 13, 2015 - remains serious.

"Just because ISIS has suffered a military defeat does not mean its military capacities have been annihilated," said a French official involved in the fight against terror, who asked not to be named.

Between 100 and 200 French jihadists are still believed to be in former ISIS strongholds in northern Iraq and Syria, and it would be an "illusion" to think they were not capable of coming back to France, added the official.

In January 2015, extremist gunmen massacred staff at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly, claiming they were avenging its publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

True to its defiant reputation, the magazine republished the cartoons to mark the start in September of the trial of suspected accomplices in the killings.

In the wake of that move, a Pakistan-born man wounded two people with a meat cleaver on September 25 outside Charlie Hebdo's former offices.

Teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his class the cartoons, was beheaded outside his school on October 16 by an Islamist radical from Chechnya.

And on October 29, a man recently arrived from Tunisia killed three people with a knife in a Nice church.

The attacks reopened painful debates in France about the integration of Muslim minorities and also prompted tougher rhetoric from President Emmanuel Macron against radical Islam.

The security source said the risks were higher in the context of the current Charlie Hebdo trial and another trial over the Paris attacks, which is due to open early next year.

These hearings keep up "a kind of background noise," with the risk of "actions of support to those" who are on trial, said the security source.

The 2021 trial into the Paris attacks will see just one of the suspected perpetrators in the dock - French-Belgian Salah Abdeslam.

Nineteen other suspects accused of providing various logistical support will be on trial with him, though five presumed dead in either Iraq or Syria will be tried in absentia.

The suspected co-ordinator of the attacks - Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who shot indiscriminately at packed cafe terraces that night - was killed five days later in a police assault in the Paris suburb of Saint Denis.