Bataclan charlatan: suspected fake Paris terror survivor on trial
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A trained paramedic suspected of posing as a victim of the November 2015 terrorist attack on the Bataclan in Paris and seeking to collect compensation as a result goes on trial for attempted fraud on Friday in Versailles, near Paris.
Cédric Rey did not suffer in silence after the brush with terror. The 29-year-old gave an extremely detailed account to top French media -- dailies including Le Monde, Libération, Le Parisien and Ouest-France, RTL radio, BFM-TV, and Agence France-Presse -- of his experience of November 13, 2015.
That night, a commando of Islamist jihadists attacked the Bataclan, a central Paris music hall, during an Eagles of Death Metal concert, killing 90 people. Forty more were killed in near-simultaneous attacks on café terraces nearby and the Stade de France sports venue north of the city.
Rey said he had been drinking a “half-pint of Carlsburg” beer on the Bataclan’s terrace with two friends when terror struck. “It doesn’t sound like firecrackers, like many have said. It’s a lot sharper, like a snare drum,” he told Libération in a three-hour interview at his home in February 2016 for a report following up on how victims were coping after the tragedy. “I was applying pressure to an injured person’s wound on the boulevard [outside the concert hall] when I lifted my head. I saw a guy in front of the entrance of the Bataclan turn around. His Kalashnikov was slung across his shoulder and it was pointed at me. At that very moment, a women crossed between us, running: she took the bullets.”
Fatefully, Rey would describe the woman shot in his place as pregnant. The detail would come back to haunt him.
In the months after his alleged traumatic ordeal, Rey took medical leave from work. He had a large tattoo depicting Marianne, a symbolic figure of the French Republic, shedding a tear of blood in the foreground of the Bataclan and “Paris – 13.11.15” etched to his forearm, as he showed AFP. He was active in victims’ groups such as Life for Paris, even hosting survivors in his home in Paris’s western suburbs and running “therapy cocktail hours”. Meanwhile, Rey was reportedly pressing his case for compensation with the Guarantee Fund for Victims of Terrorist and Other Criminal Acts (FGTI) on a daily basis.
Still, investigators found it odd that Rey hadn’t pressed charges over the attack and they began to discern anomalies in Rey’s accounts of the event, including the fact that none of those killed at the Bataclan were pregnant at the time, a source close to the case told AFP. A probe of Rey’s mobile phone records later showed that his phone had been travelling along a Paris-area highway when the Bataclan assault began, police sources cited by Libération say, and that it was then located for more than an hour at Rey’s home some 30 kilometres from the Bataclan, at a time when images of the evening’s attacks were already dominating French TV news coverage. Then, before midnight, Rey’s phone is known to have been ferried at blazing speed to the vicinity of the Bataclan, arriving a half-hour later, just as French law enforcement was launching its final charge on the concert hall to free hostages inside.
Rey has admitted to fabricating his Bataclan story, but his motive remains unknown. He has been living in Nouvelle-Calédonie, a French island territory in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, and turned himself into police on a visit to Paris in October when he learned that they were looking for him. Initially Rey was meant to be brought immediately for trial, but a criminal court in Versailles decided the trial should be postponed so he could be assessed psychologically and psychiatrically beforehand.
By way of explanation for Rey’s behaviour, Libération cites a statement from a co-worker character witness questioned by police who sensed in the "paramedic who was never fulfilled" a feeling he was underappreciated. "He seems to seek heroism,” the investigators were told. The same witness conjectured that Rey “very probably suffers from a saviour complex”.
“I made a mistake. I crossed an unforgivable line,” Rey told the Versailles court on October 27, French news channel LCI reported. “It followed me every day. I disgust myself.”
Such deception has a real impact on real victims, observers say. “It only takes one situation like this to throw suspicion on everyone,” Jérôme Bertin of France Victimes, a federation of 130 victims’ aid groups, told Libération. “It disturbs all of the real victims who are asked to justify themselves, to demonstrate, to prove their presence, of whom more is always being asked,” Bertin added.
If convicted in the case, Rey faces up to five years in prison. He would not be the first. At least seven people have been convicted of fraud or attempted fraud in the wake of the November 13 attacks.
And just last week, a contestant on the hit television show “La France a un incroyable talent” (France has an incredible talent) sang an homage to a friend he alleged died at the Bataclan, only to have the story fall apart upon closer inspection by victims’ groups.
Talent show ode to a fabricated victim
“I wrote this song to pay homage to a friend who died two years ago at the Bataclan,” Dany Machado told the M6 audience as 2.3 million viewers watched at home, picking up a guitar and dedicating the rap song to one “Alexandre”.
After the broadcast, Life for Paris, a victims’ group that was duped by Cédric Rey, filed a complaint with the CSA, France’s audiovisual authority, noting that no one by the name of Alexandre was killed at the Bataclan or any of the other attacks that night.
Machado had sought to explain away the contradiction, claiming some victims of the attacks were not listed publicly because they were minors, like his friend, who was meant to have been 15 when he was killed at the Bataclan. In fact, one minor does appear on the list of November 13 dead, the only minor to succumb in the attacks that night, a 17-year-old girl named Lola.
In his letter to the audiovisual watchdog, Life for Paris President Arthur Dénouveaux writes, “The attacks… took place more than two years ago and we see that more and more the media is conveying an imprecise and disembodied account that everyone is searching to cling on to according to their own personal agenda.” He called the conspiracy theories claiming hidden deaths in the attacks “nauseating” and expressed disappointment in the talent show’s producers for their lack of due diligence. He asked for an apology to the viewers and to “the real victims of the attacks”.
Two years on, there remain veritable traumatised bystanders suffering in silence. On November 24, another victims’ group, 13onze15, announced the suicide of Guillaume Valette, 31, two years nearly to the day after he escaped the Bataclan on the night of November 13, 2015.