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A visit to Paris one year after devastating terror attacks

November 11, 2016 at 6:25 PM EST
Sunday will mark a grim anniversary in Paris -- the series of coordinated terror attacks throughout the city that killed 130 and injured nearly 400 on November 13, 2015. The bloodiest site, Bataclan Music Club, where 89 people were murdered, will reopen Saturday with a concert by Sting. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant visited Paris to report on how the city is faring, one year later.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Paris will mark a grim anniversary Sunday, one year after a series of coordinated attacks across the city on Friday the 13th, 2015.

The Bataclan music club, where 89 people were murdered during a concert, is due to reopen tomorrow with a concert by Sting. Gunmen and suicide bombers allied to ISIS murdered 130 people in total, wounding nearly 400.

Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant has been back to Paris to see how the French capital is coping one year on.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Paris has returned to a version of normality, but for those caught up in the worst attack on the French capital since the Second World War, nothing will ever be the same again.

In a discreet corner of this cafe is Caroline Langlade, a survivor of the Bataclan. Along with several others, she hid in a tiny room for over three hours. They barricaded the door with a sofa and mini-fridge. The terrorists tried to get in, failed and resumed the massacre they began while the band was on stage.

(GUNFIRE)

CAROLINE LANGLADE, President, Life for Paris (through translator): I have a really hard time going to closed-up places or dark rooms, movies, concerts, but also restaurants where there’s too many people at night. It makes me quite jumpy. I tend to panic.

MALCOLM BRABANT: During the interview, sirens wailed nearby, and Caroline became uncomfortable. The film director has found it difficult to concentrate on work and instead devotes her energies running Life for Paris, an organization for survivors and families of those murdered on Friday the 13th.

CAROLINE LANGLADE (through translator): I’m no longer afraid of death. I have seen it up close, and I almost died several times that night. I’m no longer afraid of death, but my fear changed.

And, today, what frightens me most is suffering, physical suffering, human suffering. I had to face a gigantic amount of it that evening, and I think that I have lived through all the suffering I could have had for a lifetime.

MALCOLM BRABANT: This video captured the panic and bravery of survivors as they fled the Bataclan and tried to drag the wounded and dying to safety. Parents watching the atrocities unfold on television desperately hoped their children had made it through the emergency exits.

For Georges Salines, the anniversary rekindles the agony of discovering that his music-loving daughter, Lola, was one of the 89 murder victims.

GEORGES SALINES, Father of Bataclan Victim : What I miss the most is simply talking to her and listening to her about her new discoveries, because she was always full of projects.

For me, the most important thing was writing. I wrote a book. And after publishing my book, I kept on writing. And writing has been very helpful, because it helps me to put some distance between my pain and me.

MALCOLM BRABANT: After a year of silence, the Bataclan is about to be revived as a concert hall for the living, no longer just a shrine to contemplate the unspeakable.

One year after Friday the 13th, France remains under a state of emergency. The powers were expanded and extended after the horrific attack in Nice, when a terrorist took a truck and mowed down people, killing 86 and wounding nearly 500.

France’s interior minister says the country cannot live in an indefinite state of emergency. And groups like Human Rights Watch have warned that the continued use of the powers erodes the rule of law and undermines the rights of citizens.

The Eiffel Tower and other landmarks may radiate an abiding allure, but terrorism has cast a permanent shadow on the City of Light. It’s no longer possible to take a leisurely stroll beneath the steel latticework without first undergoing security screening.

The impression that this is a country on a war footing with an invisible enemy is reinforced by military patrols.

Colombe Brossel, the deputy mayor, with responsibility for security issues, says the authorities are trying to strike a balance.

COLOMBE BROSSEL, Deputy Mayor, Paris (through translator): Our wish, our directive line, is to say, we have to give our best, our maximum when it comes to security questions.

So, of course, the way we organize the events is different compared to 18 months ago, two or five years ago. But we remain adamant on the fact that Paris needs to remain a city where anyone can go out, where we can have events in the public space, where we can share moments of pleasure and happiness.

FRANCOIS GERE, French Strategic Analysis Institute: The Islamic State is losing ground, is losing also prestige and glory.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Historian Francois Gere, president of the French Strategic Analysis Institute, believes that France will almost certainly be hit again by Islamic State, although he’s convinced the organization’s potency is diminishing.

FRANCOIS GERE: It’s obvious that the Islamic State will try to send additional people in order to perpetrate attacks and terrorist aggressions in Europe. There is still a period of high danger during the coming six months. After that, it will decrease.

MALCOLM BRABANT: The Marais is one district that’s especially vigilant, not least because of the high concentration of Jewish businesses and institutions.

AARON SELEM, Student (through translator): We’re scared, but we have to keep living normally.

NATHAN BOULECHE, Student (through translator): At every synagogue and school, you have dozens of soldiers. I’m relaxed about it because it’s easier for us Jews to wear the kippa.

SAMUEL CARLSON: During this whole year, I think the thing was to say to yourself, keep on living. You cannot live in fear, and you just need to carry on your daily life as normal. Otherwise, yes, where do we go?

MALCOLM BRABANT: Stephane Balensi is considering selling his clothes shop. Sales have plunged by 40 percent over the past year. Although he’s reassured by military patrols, he believes they frighten tourists away.

STEPHANE BALENSI, Shop Owner (through translator): It started with the 13th of November. Quite clearly, ever since the Bataclan and then during the normally busy summer season, we had the Nice attacks. It’s the same, far less tourism.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Beligh Nabli is a political scientist and analyst of the Islamic world. He says intolerance towards Muslims has become more overt since the attacks.

BELIGH NABLI, International Relations Institute (through translator): A lot of people kept their Islamophobia hidden before, but now they feel it’s OK to express their aversion and criticism of Islam in general and towards Muslims in particular.

It’s created a new social tension, which has given more justification to the jihadis in their strategy of dividing French society in order to lure back the Muslim community to their cause.

MALCOLM BRABANT: France is gearing up for a presidential election in six months’ time. The latest opinion polls suggest that almost a third of the electorate believe the hard-line stance of Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Front, would make the country a safer place.

But the divisions in society exposed by last year’s attacks worry those most affected.

GEORGES SALINES: Candidates are playing this card, and it’s a very dangerous path, because the most important thing is to be precise in targeting the terrorists, the extremists, Da’esh, and not doing anything which could help them to recruit.

CAROLINE LANGLADE (through translator): I think that the most beautiful response we can give the terrorists is love, joy, happiness, culture, music. So, we need to keep this going as loud as possible.

So, yes, I hope we will continue even stronger, that people will realize that life isn’t about the money. Life doesn’t revolve around the little problems we might have. Life is love.

MALCOLM BRABANT: But while Paris puts on a brave face, a new survey shows that terrorism remains the biggest concern of almost half the French population. They fear that Islamic State will follow through on a threat made earlier this year to intensify attacks on France in revenge for its military role against the caliphate, a world away from Notre Dame.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Malcolm Brabant in Paris.

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