Paris attacks inquiry hears of multiple failings
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Survivors of the November 13, 2015 Paris attacks have told a parliamentary inquiry that the authorities' "botched" response to the terrorist atrocities was slow, inefficient and often inappropriate.
The commission, which began hearing evidence on Monday February 15, was told by numerous survivors and victims' families that official channels had been caught off-guard by the attacks, which struck numerous locations around the French capital and left 130 dead, 352 injured and 37 still in hospital.
The authorities estimate that a total of 4,000 people suffered either physical injuries or emotional trauma as a result of what was the biggest bloodletting on French soil since the Second World War.
'Botched' response times
Chief among the survivors' concerns was a lack of information from the authorities in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Families of victims were obliged to wait for hours, sometimes days, to find out what had happened to their loved ones.
Georges Salines, who heads the "November 13, Brotherhood and Truth" association he set up after the attacks, said he only heard what happened to his daughter, killed at the Bataclan music venue where 89 revellers were murdered, by following events on social media.
The authorities' delay in informing next of kin "was well beyond what one would reasonably call botched", he said, adding that the authorities were "atrociously badly prepared".
Sophie Dias, whose father was killed by a suicide bomber at the Stade de France football stadium in northern Paris, said she was only informed of his death by the Portuguese consulate on November 14, and by the French authorities a day-and-a-half later.
She told the commission she had still not been able to see the autopsy report, and that when she finally went to identify her father's body, medical staff told her: "Please don't worry, but we are not going to show you his head. You can see his foot instead."
Police 'hung up on me' during the attack
Other witnesses complained that it was impossible to get through to the emergency services to report suspicious activity during the attacks.
Caroline Langlade told lawmakers she was among 40 people hiding in a tiny side room at the Bataclan.
She told the inquiry that she was unable to get through to the police on the normal emergency services number, and rang the police in her mother in her hometown Nancy, who called the local police to report the incident. She said that when she tried calling the emergency services a second time, the operator "hung up on me because I was whispering".
Langlade recounted that during her ordeal she heard a knock at the door and a voice, claiming to be a policeman, asked to be let in. After a "show of hands", the group decided to keep the door locked.
"Since then we have constantly been searching for information," she said, referring to the administrative "marathon" that victims and their families have had to endure to find out exactly what went wrong.
"It has been like this since the beginning," she said. "We have had to fight for basic information."
Intelligence and political failures
Grégoire Reibenberg, who owns the Belle Equipe bar where 19 people were killed, told the inquiry he was appalled that the focus of the post-attacks debate had shifted to revoking French nationality for dual citizens convicted of terrorist offences.
"It's like having engine trouble in a car and deciding to change the colour of the seats," he said.
Mohamed Zenak, whose daughter was injured in the attacks, asked how it was possible for a terrorist who was wanted in France and Europe to be able to organise an "attack on such a grand scale" and suggested that the authorities had "failed to live up to their responsibilities".
His thoughts were echoed by Alexis Lebrun, a member of the "Life for Paris" victims' association, who said there were "no police and searches" at the Bataclan, even though the authorities "knew" there was a risk of a concert venue being targeted.
The cross-party parliamentary inquiry into the handling of the November 13 attacks will publish its findings on July 14.
"We are neither prosecutors nor judges," said commission president Georges Fenech, of the conservative opposition Les Républicains party, who insisted the inquiry would provide "transparency, truth and solutions".
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)