I played dead as bodies piled up: South Africans in Paris speak about TERROR Attacks. South Africans in Paris have told of the horror of the terrorist attacks and the determination of Parisians to get back to normal life.
Shops and restaurants in the district where Friday’s attacks took place were busy yesterday.
“It’s a sunny Sunday morning. It looks like any other morning. But it’s not,” said Adrian Lees, a South African who stays in an apartment about 150m from the restaurant La Belle Equipe that was attacked.
At least 132 people were killed and more than 90 critically injured in the series of shootings and bombings. Seven of the eight terrorists involved blew themselves up, and police killed the other. At least one suspect is on the run. Seven people were held for questioning in Belgium yesterday.
Lees went out for breakfast yesterday, defiant. “I refuse to stay home and cower,” he said. “It’s great to be out in the street, but maybe it’s foolish. People are queuing [only metres from the attacked restaurant] to get Sunday brunch. It’s very busy but it’s [also] a very good place to mow us down.”
He said the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper office in January, which left 11 people dead, had also taken place about 300m from his apartment. But Friday’s terror attacks felt different.
“With Charlie Hebdo there were people with very radical political views, targeted by Muslim extremists. Somehow [the ordinary person] was not a target. What has changed now is we are the targets.”
South African Isobel Bowdery, who graduated from UCT last year, posted a detailed account on Facebook of being in the Bataclan concert hall with her boyfriend to watch the US band Eagles of Death Metal when attackers opened fire.
“You never think it will happen to you . The atmosphere was so happy and everyone was dancing and smiling. And then when the men came through the front entrance and began the shooting, we naively believed it was all part of the show.”
She said: “It wasn’t just a terrorist attack, it was a massacre. Dozens of people were shot right in front of me. Pools of blood filled the floor. Cries of grown men who held their girlfriends’ dead bodies pierced the small music venue.
“I pretended to be dead for over an hour, lying among people who could see their loved ones motionless. Holding my breath, trying to not move, not cry – not giving those men the fear they longed to see. I was incredibly lucky to survive.”
Efforts to reach Bowdery were unsuccessful. According to Facebook she initially thought her boyfriend had been killed but later found him and sobbed in his arms. Her Facebook description of the events has been shared more than half a million times.
South African Luthando Mbatha, 23, told the Sunday Times how she, too, was at the concert: “I heard the gunshots and screams. A man … I couldn’t see his face, pushed me over a railing. He was shot dead on the spot … he saved my life.”
Former Durban resident Umeshree Govender, who is studying in Paris, planned to go out with friends in the 11th district: “It was just by luck we chose a different restaurant. It’s very scary when you think about it, it could have been us.” She and her friends learned of the attacks from a journalist at a nearby table.
“Soon our waiter was distraught. One of his friends was being held hostage at the Bataclan club.
A male friend who lived next to the Bataclan, where more than 80 concertgoers were shot, had texted her: “It’s 9/11 in my district.”
Friends who lived in an apartment near the Bataclan were banned from leaving on Saturday as the foyer was covered in blood from concertgoers who had escaped the massacre.
“… On Saturday, I visited a friend and they couldn’t find her friend. She was missing and had been at the concert at Bataclan. But on Saturday night she was found in the hospital.”
South African Janine Piek, in Paris for medical treatment, said that the centre of Paris was busy yesterday morning and the “very visible police presence across the city” was “reassuring”.
“I was quite surprised. People were very quick to get back to acting as if things are normal. The shops are open, the buses and trains are going.”