The Paris terror attack trial through a survivor's eyes
By Christine Longin and Emery P. Dalesio
When Christophe Naudin took his smartphone out of his pocket on the evening of November 13, 2015, the Islamist terrorist attackers were already standing in front of the entrance to the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. At 9.44 pm, the bearded 46-year-old took a souvenir photo. Three minutes later, the first shots were fired.
The teacher thought the noise was fireworks until he saw the hateful face of an assassin lit by the fire of his Kalashnikov rifle.
“From that moment on, I was on remote-control,” he said, describing how he fled from in front of the stage and stepped over bodies on the floor.
Next to the stage, Naudin found a narrow shed where he barricaded himself with 20 others. He stood motionless against the wall for two and a half hours, listening to the gunshots and explosions that killed 90 people. It was only when the police released him from his hiding place that he saw the full extent of the brutal scenes that had taken place a few metres away.
In conversation with a reporter for the Luxemburger Wort, Naudin spares the details, but in his book “Journal d'un rescapé du Bataclan” (Diary of a survivor of Bataclan) he writes: “I see several corpses from a distance, among which I see a man with a white T-shirt who stands out. I don't see his face, but I can see his brain flowing out of his head, a thick white sauce."
Naudin struggled against the nightmarish images of that night for years. Only with trauma therapy did he get the sights, smells and screams out of his head. Now the ghosts are threatening to return as hundreds of survivors and relatives of the dead began describing their ordeal last week in a Paris courtroom.
On trial is the only suspected survivor of the 10-man Islamic State squad who targeted the Stade de France stadium, then attacked cafes and restaurants in central Paris before bursting into the packed Bataclan concert hall. Thirteen other defendants are in court, accused of acting in support of the attacks.
Naudin was in the courtroom when Salah Abdeslam, who prosecutors say was part of the terrorist squad, issued Islamist slogans from behind safety glass at the start of the trial.
“It was like a weight was pulling me down,” Naudin said.
Judge Jean-Louis Périès has avoided displaying photos or videos in court. He only allowed the playing of the first few seconds of a sound recording that ran for the entire two and a half hours of the terrorist attack starting with the music of the group Eagles of Death Metal before it is interrupted by gunshots and screams.
The most painful trial testimony so far has come from police officer Patrick Bourbotte, who arrived at the concert hall hours after the attack to record the carnage.
“We walked through coagulated blood, amid splinters of bones and teeth and phones that vibrated. And in the midst of corpses, corpses, corpses," the officer said in court.
Keep memories alive
Naudin wants to write a statement in the coming days of his memories of the terror. He plans to describe Vincent, his friend who went to the concert with him. Naudin lost him in the chaos and only found out two days later that he had been shot. Three bullets killed Vincent, who leaves a wife and two children.
Many survivors joined a group that meets regularly to talk, especially about how they are now. At the end of particularly difficult days during the court case, they have a drink in the brasserie opposite the Palace of Justice and let things sink in, Naudin said.
The history teacher resumed an outwardly normal life after the attacks. Naudin continued to teach, entered into a recently broken relationship, attended concerts and restaurants. But Naudin does not believe his internal wounds will heal after the verdict following the mammoth trial expected to last for nine months.
"It's not that easy to move on to something else," Naudin said.