Politics

In Mourning, Parisians Fear More Violence

Yves Lancin had to think quickly. He lives nearby the Stade de France in Paris and his family had heard two loud explosions nearby. "I have two daughters aged six and seven," says Lancin, a 40-year-old pianist, who was walking near the city's Gare du Nord this morning. "I told them that there had been a storm."

Parisians have been finding all sorts of ways to cope with the tragedy that befell their city on Friday night. Eight gunmen killed at least 127 people and injured at least 180 others in six attacks across the city. It is Europe's worst terrorist attack since the 2004 Madrid bombings, which resulted in the deaths of close to 200 people. This morning French President Francois Hollande said that the attacks were an "act of war" organized by the militant group Islamic State (ISIS) who have since declared responsibility. 

The streets of La Chapelle in Paris' tenth arrondissement were unusually quiet for a Saturday morning. Bakeries wafting sweet-smelling air had few customers to sell their pastries to while shopkeepers peered out forlornly behind mannequins. On this cold, grey November morning, residents were trying to pretend it was business as usual but the empty streets and solemn faces told a different story.

Sonja and Jan De Smat arrived in Paris on Friday from Belgium for what they hoped would be an enjoyable weekend break in the City of Light. The couple, aged 53 and 54 respectively, live close to Brussels, which is currently in their thoughts. The band Eagles of Death Metal, whose concert at the Bataclan was stormed by four of the gunmen last night, were due to play a show in Brussels on Sunday. It is not yet clear whether this concert will go ahead.

The De Smats will stay in Paris until tomorrow as planned, despite their fears. "It's a bit strange to go out now," says Sonja De Smat, glancing up at her husband for reassurance. "We are scared to take the metro." The pair is booked into a hotel close to Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, which were also attacked by gunmen who killed at least 12 people there. The De Smats were not caught up in the shootings.

"We had a feeling of presentiment," Sonja says. "We were scared to come to Paris on Friday 13." She and her husband both fear that this won't be the last attack in the city. "[The terrorists] are only just starting," Jan De Smat says. "I think the U.S. will be attacked next."

Speaking before Hollande's announcement, the couple said they believed ISIS was behind the attacks, in retaliation for the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. The De Smats are concerned that refugees coming to Europe under the guise of seeking asylum could commit further assaults. "It's more than just refugees coming to Europe for a better life. I think some of them come to destabilize Europe," Sonja De Smat says. The couple said they planned to walk over to the Bataclan where at least 80 people lost their lives.

A little way up the street, past a number of Bengali restaurants and currency transfer shops, was a Middle Eastern café. Standing outside, clutching a small cup of ferociously strong Turkish coffee, was a 26-year-old French-Algerian named Lies, who wouldn't give his surname because he was concerned for his safety.

Though dark glasses shielded his eyes, Lies appeared nervous. "I'm scared for the Muslim people who live here," says Lies, lighting up a cigarette. "They are not bad people." Lies, himself a Muslim, insisted in a mixture of broken English and fluent French that last night was not normal. "It's not Muslim," he says. "Muslims, Christians, Jews cannot kill people."

Lies says he fears for Europe's refugees. "Before this attack it was good for the refugees. British, French and German people cared about them." Now he says, things will change. "Hollande said last night he will close the borders." Though borders have reopened, tight controls remain. At the Gare du Nord, an arrival point for international trains, armed police patrolled in groups, only occasionally dropping their steely expressions to crack a joke or embrace a friend. Lies wonders if the police and ordinary French people will start to look at him differently. "I have a business, I have a house, I pay tax but people think because I am Muslim they should fear me," he says.

Lancin, the pianist, said the French government should consider the potential consequences of its actions the Middle East: "I understand the terrorists a little because I think they have legitimate concerns." Though he does not condone their actions he says that France is partly responsible for last night's atrocities because of its involvement in the Syrian war and its targeting of the ISIS militants. Unlike some French people who have been quick to express concerns about the country's influx of refugees, many from Middle Eastern countries, Lancin is calm when discussing them. "The refugees are families who need our protection," he says.

Walking back along the road, away from Gare du Nord, the silence of people passing is unnerving. Paris is in mourning for what has happened, and in fear of what could come to pass.

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