Bataclan attack survivors and victims’ loved ones on resulting hate, compassion

Saturday will be six years since gunmen of the Islamic State attacked several venues in Paris, France, and killed 130 people, 90 of whom were murdered at the Bataclan music hall. The trial of the perpetrators is underway in the city and up to 1800 people are due to give evidence over the course of the next few months. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Paris.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A sad anniversary will be marked in France on Saturday. It will be six years since gunmen of the Islamic State attacked several venues in Paris and killed 130 people, 90 of whom were murdered at the Bataclan music hall.

    The trial of the perpetrators is under way in Paris, and up to 1, 800 people are due to give evidence over the course of the next few months.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on the struggle for many to have their testimonies show that love is triumphing over hatred.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The tiny Parisian apartment of expatriate Los Angeleno Helen Wilson is a shrine to Nick Alexander, who was the love of her life. Alexander was the merchandise manager for the rock band Eagles of Death Metal, when Islamic State terrorists stormed the Bataclan.

  • Helen Wilson, Bataclan Survivor:

    This is because he's my star, and he's always watching over me. This one is Life For Paris, which is one of my support groups.


  • Helen Wilson:

    When they came in, Nick threw me out of the way, and he was initially shot.

    Then, later on, they came back, and I was shot in both thighs. I knew he was injured, so I didn't leave. And I stayed with him, and I told him — I just kept telling him that I loved him. I just kept saying: "I love you, Nicky, and I'm going to stay with you. I'm not going to leave you."

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Six years after almost bleeding to death, Helen Wilson is in constant pain from nerve endings shred by Kalashnikov rounds.

    What's harder to bear are the grief and psychological impact of the worst attack on French soil since World War II.

  • Helen Wilson:

    My mental anguish has been extremely complicated. I do have nightmares, I still have nightmares. I had a nightmare last night.

    I'm constantly trying to save everybody. I still have days where I don't want to get out of bed and I feel like it's the end of the world.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    For the past two months, Wilson's focus has been on this Parisian courthouse, where, within a ring of steel, 20 extremists are on trial, accused of involvement in the worst Islamic State attack in Europe.

    Ninety people were killed at the Bataclan. Two gunmen were shot dead by police. A third blew himself up with a suicide belt. The prime defendant is Salah Abdeslam, pictured here in a courtroom sketch. He was the gang's driver, who chose not to detonate his suicide belt, as planned, and was arrested in the Belgian capital, Brussels, four months after the attack.

  • Helen Wilson:

    I would like to see him take responsibility for what he's done and redeem himself in a way in that maybe he would turn around and help other people that are at risk to becoming radicalized. I think that would be the only redemption.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The main defendant in this trial has shown absolutely no remorse. Salah Abdeslam refused to answer the questions of investigators, and he's made quite plain his contempt for the French justice system.

    When he was asked his identity, he told the judge that the only divine being was Allah and that his messenger on Earth was the Prophet Mohammed. And when he was asked what his profession was, he said: "I'm a fighter of the Islamic State."

    Back home in Britain, after giving evidence at the trial, is Nick Alexander's sister, Zoe. She welcomed the chance to look the defendants in the eye and tell them that she didn't hate them.

    Zoe Alexander, Sister of Bataclan Victim: I don't hate them. I hate what they did. I think, by hating them, we give them power. And power is what they want.

    We need to take that away. And by neutralizing our feelings about them, we remove their power.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This grieving father is the polar opposite. Patrick Jardin despairs of the conciliatory tone adopted by Nick Alexander's circle and other witnesses.

    His daughter Nathalie was a lighting engineer who ran towards the gunfire.

    Patrick Jardin, Father of Bataclan Victim (through translator): She went for a drink in the Rockstar Cafe next door, and when the shooting started, the owner of the cafe closed it down.

    But she went underneath the shutter. And she said, "I couldn't leave my friends in there," so she went there and she got hit.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Before the Islamic State murdered his daughter, Jardin supported mainstream right wing anti-immigrant politicians. Since her death, his views have been hardened by numerous atrocities.

    These include the 2016 truck attack on pedestrians in Nice in Southern France, which killed 86 people and injured 458.

  • Patrick Jardin (through translator):

    Every day, we are at risk of being slaughtered in the street in France, and it has become a country of such unbelievable violence.

    We shouldn't be racist. Yes, sure. Well, all Muslims aren't terrorists. However, all terrorists are Muslims. So, since we cannot distinguish them, maybe we should limit their number in the country.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Outside the Bataclan, Amine Hijiej fears that such views have gained significant traction. Hijiej has Moroccan heritage and heads an anti-racist nonprofit campaigning for co-existence between faiths and ethnicities and undoing the damage done by the Islamists.

  • Amine Hijeij, President, Co-Existence (through translator):

    They absolutely don't want Muslims to feel at home in Western countries, so that they only feel at home in a Muslim country elsewhere. They want to create that division.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Jardin is unconvinced. Some of his anti-Muslim public statements have been so extreme that the French authorities have put him on a terrorism watch list. Jardin insists he's law-abiding.

  • Patrick Jardin (through translator):

    They say that I am full of hatred. And, yes, I have hate. The opposite of hate is love, and I cannot love the people who murdered my daughter. It is impossible.

  • Helen Wilson:

    I understand the anger, and I understand wanting retribution.

    But an eye for an eye only makes the world go blind, as Gandhi said. Hate only breeds more hate. When revenge is included in hatred and violence, then I only see more people, and more innocent people, being harmed.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    That sense of compassion resonates with Sarah Perks, a British fashion historian, who has been to gigs at the Bataclan several times since she came close to being killed in 2015.

  • Sarah Perks, Bataclan Survivor:

    The only way to combat fear and hate is by love and opening people's minds and showing them that they have got nothing to be afraid of.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Sarah Perks was among audience members who played dead during the massacre. They held on until special forces rescued them. We first met a few days after the attack.

  • Sarah Perks:

    I am incredibly lucky, a little bit numb.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    How did you manage to hold it together?

  • Sarah Perks:

    I don't know. You just do.

    Every time I go, I obviously have a moment where I think of them and wish that they could all still be here with us. But they're not. Life is so precious, and I want to carry on and live my life fully for the people that can't anymore.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Some good has emerged from tragedy. A music trust set up in Nick Alexander's name provides instruments for projects such as Drum Works, which uses mass participation to break down social barriers and boost the confidence of young people.

    This Celtic sound bowl is used in music therapy to mitigate the impact of dementia.

  • Zoe Alexander:

    I said to the terrorists in court that they may have taken his body, but his energy lives in every note that's played in his memory.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Now, that's a message which strikes a chord at the Bataclan and beyond.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Paris.

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