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Paris probe keeps memories of attacks fresh

Elizabeth Bryant, ParisFebruary 20, 2016

Survivors of the November 13 attacks and the relatives of those killed are facing a long recovery. A cathartic concert and legislative hearings may help them process their emotions. Elizabeth Bryant reports from Paris.

Eagles of Death Metal in Paris, Olympia
Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Saget

Survivors of the Paris terrorist attacks - and the families of those killed - are attempting to move forward, sometimes haltingly, a process underscored this week as France opened a parliamentary probe into the November 13 shootings and bombings, and the American rock band Eagles of Death Metal returned to finish its aborted performance at the Bataclan concert hall.

The events came as prosecutors in neighboring Belgium announced that investigators had found alarming video footage of a senior nuclear official as they searched houses linked to the attack suspects. Officials believe that mostly French or Belgian nationals committed the assaults that killed 130 people and wounded another 350.

Earlier in the week, a National Assembly commission began examining France's response to the threat, listening to often scathing testimony from victims groups and their lawyers. Separately, the lower house also followed the Senate in extending France's state of emergency for another three months.

"What's important is that everyone has a clear view of what happened," Georges Salines, whose 28-year-old daughter, Lola, was killed at the Bataclan, told the commission on Monday. "We must find solutions together."

Eagles of Death Metal in Paris, Olympia
Eagles of Death Metal returned to Paris to finish the show they started November 13Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Saget

'A thousand questions'

It took over two hours from the time the terrorists stormed the Bataclan until police were able to bring the assault at the concert hall to an end. Meanwhile scores of wounded lay bleeding alongside the dead. In the end 90 people were killed at the concert hall.

Those testifying this week described busy signals as they desperately called a hotline for information about loved ones. In many cases news arrived slowly and sometimes brutally.

"We have a thousand questions and expect answers," Salines, who first heard about his daughter's death through Twitter, told the lawmakers.

Caroline Langlade, who was holed up in a side room of the Bataclan with 40 other people as the terrorists prowled outside, described calling police for help on her cellphone. She was told to speak louder and, when she tried explained her situation, hung up on.

Requested by the conservative opposition Republicans party, the commission is expected to report on its findings by July.

For some survivors and their families, understanding every detail of the attacks - how they could happen, how they were carried out and especially the fate of the assailants - is an essential step in the healing process.

"I don't think we'll have the whole truth, but maybe we'll have a little part of the truth," said 29-year-old Emmanuel Domenach, who survived the Bataclan assault along with a friend. "People want to know what happened to their sons, their brothers, their dads - how they died. And how young French and Belgians can grow up to kill other young people."

Several support networks have been created in recent weeks, including November 13: Brotherhood and Truth, which includes both survivors and victims' families. Headed by Salines, a doctor who works for the city of Paris, the group helps members wade through the bureaucracy of receiving state support and compensation. The group also intends to become a civil party in a judicial probe into the assaults.

Another group, Life for Paris, has a website and a Facebook page. Most of its members are survivors of the Bataclan attacks who get together for drinks and exchange information and support.

For some, the return of Eagles of Death Metal was a cathartic moment. The group did not play at the Bataclan, which is scheduled to reopen later this year, but rather at the trendy Olympia concert hall - and with heavy security.

"This is what it should have been in the first place," a member of Life for Paris posted on Facebook with a photo of the band playing. "A giant rock 'n' roll party. Much love to the band, the staff, the fans. ... Glad we could all make it."

Others emerged shaken.

"It was completely electrifying," Julien, another survivor, told the newspaper Ouest-France. "Only, I saw the terrorists enter the Bataclan ... and the result was I spent the concert mechanically returning to that memory."

A legal advisor for the SNCF rail company, Domenach had managed to escape the Bataclan with the help of a security guard. He lost his glasses in the chaos and emerged with a T-shirt soaked in blood. He said he didn't know what to expect when he went to see Eagles of Death Metal at the Olympia.

"I was a bit afraid the concert would be too sad - that it would be about November 13," Domenach said. "But the group gave us two and a half hours of a really good show."

"This time I enjoyed the moment," Domenach said. "Although I still had thoughts about people at the Bataclan - especially a girl who was dancing to my right there and who is now dead."

Since November, Domenach has been fearful about taking the subway or going to movies. He has been fighting bouts of depression and a sense of unreality. Only recently have things begun to look up. Like Salines, he is a member of the November 13 group.

Salines, who attended the concert with family and a friend of his daughter's, said he enjoyed the show, even if the Eagles of Death Metal are "not my cup of tea."

"I wanted to be there to end this concert, like the singer said," he said of the band's frontman, Jesse Hughes. "It was a symbolic moment. "

"My family and I are very united, and we get a lot of support," he said. "We're going to overcome this loss, but it's not easy."

France's parliament is now debating changing the constitution to insert state-of-emergency measures that would increase police powers, along with a proposal to strip nationality from convicted terrorists. But Salines, for one, believes law-and-order answers are not enough.

"On the contrary," Salines said. "It's absolutely necessary to understand what drives these young people to take up arms against their own country."