Paris terror attacks

Living in the shadow of fear

A couple standing in front of the La Belle Equipe cafe, one of the sites of the attacks in Paris, on Nov 17.
A couple standing in front of the La Belle Equipe cafe, one of the sites of the attacks in Paris, on Nov 17.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • When Ms Hamideche Dorea nervously left home on Monday, opposite La Belle Equipe cafe where 19 people were gunned down in the attacks that tore through Paris, her pulse sped up when she spotted a van.

"I thought maybe someone inside has a Kalashnikov and is going to shoot at me. I have this fear now, I am scared to leave the house," the 38-year-old said, her lip trembling .

For Ms Dorea and so many others, the sight of her neighbourhood cafe turned into a shrine is surreal.

This modest district is not the glitzy Champs Elysees avenue, or the sort of tourist hot spot where security was beefed up after 17 people were killed in a three-day attack in January on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket.

Instead, Islamist gunmen were sent to savage a youthful, melting- pot community with lively restaurants and bars.

The neighbourhood was "calm - we went out, we came back late, it was lively. We drank our coffees on terraces with an unimaginable serenity", Ms Dorea said. "We don't know why we were targeted."

There is less defiance than after the January attacks, even though many have come out to pay their respects or gather in solidarity.

Ms Dorea did not go to work on Monday, afraid that just like after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the assault would continue for days.

"But tomorrow we will confront life," she said, although she does not expect her neighbourhood to be quite the same again. "They targeted people where they gather and that is scary. To me, now, a terrace means death."

At La Belle Equipe, candles now flicker among flowers. Before, patrons drank cocktails on a terrace that was always crowded.

The epitome of the bon vivant French lifestyle, the 11th arrondissement encapsulates everything Parisians hold dear. This has made the fear after the spate of attacks in the neighbourhood and the Stade de France much more palpable and the atmosphere less defiant than after the earlier attack many refer to merely as "Charlie".

Once a working-class neighbourhood of carpenters, antique stores and other artisans, it has become increasingly "bobo", a French term for "bourgeois bohemian" hipsters.

On Friday, "they killed our youth", said resident Laurette Nozieres, 65, who has lived there for half a century.

Mr Mourad Zran, a 49-year-old Tunisian, took over one of the neighbourhood bakeries in May.

"France to me is peace," said Mr Zran, who like many around the cafe heard the three volleys of gunfire before tyres squealed and chaos erupted. "Now I have the reflex... Even at night when I see a car stop at the traffic light... I pay attention. Frankly, it can happen to anyone now."

Next door, Mr Frederic Ittah, 48, owns the go-to epicerie for cheese or a rotisserie chicken. He and the owner of the coffee shop across the road rushed to help victims before police arrived, and he rails against France's "lack of preparation" for the attacks. "How long have we known we are a target? We aren't surprised," he said of the assault on his melting-pot community. He said the attack showed that specific targets such as the Jewish community and journalists were "no longer enough" for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants.

"The only thing I want is that we be better prepared, because we know it will happen again. Each civilian in a country at war must have first-aid training," said Mr Ittah, who served in the Israeli army.

"We must prepare - otherwise we are like ants with people coming along to crush us from time to time."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'Living in the shadow of fear'. Print Edition | Subscribe