France re-enacts Paris attacks, stages soccer stadium chemical drill

AP

French lawmakers leading an investigation into the deadly Nov. 13 attacks in Paris and some first responders at the Bataclan concert hall that night staged a re-enactment Thursday of the horror that left 130 people dead across the capital.

On the other side of the country, law enforcement officials bracing for this summer’s European soccer championship were training with a fake explosion reminiscent of the suicide attacks on the French national stadium that night.

The exercises aim to prevent future bloodshed and shed light on what happened when three gunmen claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group opened fire during a jam-packed rock concert and three suicide bombers attacked the Germany-France soccer match.

The metal gate of the Bataclan, which has been closed and locked to all but forensics teams and judicial investigators since the attacks, opened briefly Thursday to allow about two dozen people inside before clattering shut behind them.

Moments before, the mother of a young man killed that night complained outside the entrance about a process she said was both unnecessarily painful and did little to help families understand what happened to their loved ones.

“We parents still don’t know what time our children died, what their wounds were. On my son’s death certificate, it says he died between Nov. 13 and Nov. 14,” Nadine Ribert-Reinhart said. “It’s a farce.”

Families have not been allowed in, but Alain Marsaud — one of the lawmakers there Thursday — said someone had laid fresh flowers and photos where the victims fell.

Before entering, Georges Fenech, president of the parliamentary commission, said the lawmakers would observe a minute of silence inside before beginning their work alongside the elite police special forces and other first responders that night.

“We will, with them, see chronologically how they intervened and answer the questions that the investigation commission has, that all the victims, the families have, and all the French as well,” Fenech said.

The Nov. 13 attacks began at the stadium with three suicide bombers and ended with the siege of the Bataclan, where 89 people died that night over 2½ hours until the final police assault ordered by the president. One officer penetrated the concert hall and managed to kill an attacker before retreating.

“From the moment one police officer very courageously killed one of the terrorists, it changed the behavior and the way the other two acted. They stopped killing, slaughtering people. So we asked a lot of questions,” Meyer Habib, one of the lawmakers, said after emerging.

In the southern city of Nimes, security officials from French cities hosting soccer’s European Championship compared notes and trained for an attack more devastating than the ones on the national stadium. Thursday’s scenario involved a chemical bomb at an open-air screening of a match, with thousands of spectators.

One key moment of Nov. 13 was the decision to continue the Germany-France match even after three suicide attackers detonated outside the stadium in the outskirts of Paris.

Among the spectators that night were French President Francois Hollande, the prime minister and the general who leads the Paris’ fire department. All three were evacuated after the explosions, and the fire chief deployed to the Bataclan.

But the bulk of the people in the stadium remained inside — told only there was a “technical problem” and that they could not leave.

That order, Gen. Philippe Boutinaud told the lawmakers late Wednesday, came from the highest level and was crucial to keeping casualties low in the crowd — one person was killed in the attack, but there was no stampede and spectators evacuated peacefully hours later, some singing the French national anthem.

“While things were unfolding in Paris, I had one constant worry, which was the 72,000 spectators at the Stade de France,” he testified.

Even many of the security guards were in the dark, said Didier Pinteaux, the French soccer federation’s security chief.

“The order was clear to all the managers: under no circumstances should you communicate about the attacks,” he testified.