Bataclan terror victims demand: Who gave soldiers order 'not to enter'?
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Survivors and families of victims of the 2015 Bataclan attack in Paris filed a legal complaint Friday over the inaction of some soldiers that night in what could expose egregious failings within France's military and political commands.
The legal complaint was triggered by the testimony of a top military commander who gave evidence during a parliamentary investigation of the actions of police and military on the night of the attacks of November 13, 2015.
General Bruno Le Ray, Military Governor of Paris, defended the order that prevented eight soldiers located near the Bataclan concert hall from intervening in the attack because he thought “it unthinkable to put soldiers at risk just hoping, hypothetically, to save other lives”, Samia Maktouf, a Paris lawyer for the survivors and victims’ families, told FRANCE 24.
She said the soldiers were told not to use their weapons or even administer first aid to the many victims at the music venue during the two-hour siege by jihadists affiliated to the Islamic State (IS) group.
“The military did not make any mistake, they were acting under instruction,” said Maktouf, stressing that the complaint she filed is not aimed at punishing the soldiers.
“We want the judge to identify who gave the command not to enter [the Bataclan].”
Why weren't special forces deployed?
During the 2016 parliamentary probe headed by Georges Fenech, questions were raised as to why the country's special operations force, the elite unit of the Sentinelle who specialise in counter-terrorism, were not deployed at the Bataclan.
In the concluding report, Fenech pointed to a lack of coordination and confusing lines of authority that had slowed down the response of the forces as the attack unfolded. However, he did not ascribe blame “at men but at organisations”, he told Le Figaro in an interview.
Maktouf believes otherwise and is suing on behalf of her clients to determine who gave the orders to hold the Sentinelle officers back. It is these individuals who she believes are ultimately responsible for the fatal failings that led to the deaths of 90 concert goers at the Bataclan.
Responding to Friday’s announcement of a legal complaint being filed, Col. Patrik Steiger, spokesman for the French Armed Forces Staff, defended the actions of security forces saying in a written statement that the soldiers took all measures possible to protect police officers at the scene, to protect the victims fleeing the hall and to facilitate the arrival of emergency assistance.
“The military intervened spontaneously on the night of November 13, they arrived [at the Bataclan] while police were already present. The military secured areas around the Bataclan in coordination with, and at the request of, the internal security forces,” Col. Steiger said in a written statement to FRANCE 24.
Asking the 'right questions'
The parliamentary probe led to tougher anti-terrorism laws and reforms to enable greater intelligence sharing and cooperation between France’s security and police forces. But, says Maktouf, it provided little in the way of justice for the survivors and the victims for whom Maktouf continues to fight.
She said that she had written to several judges and prosecutors asking for answers but that she did not receive responses to her questions.
“It may be in three or five years, but we will not give up until we have an answer,” she said. “Time has no meaning for people who have lost loved ones. We are all targets, we will not be able to fight terrorism if we don’t ask the right questions and get the right answers. I have never found any feelings of revenge (by the victims) they are only interested in knowing the truth only because they don't want to see other parents suffering as much as they are today.”
Maktouf reiterated that individual soldiers were not to blame. "The military is devoted to saving lives - they're [French soldiers] considered one of the best in the world. I’m sure they were frustrated by not being able to save lives."
The Paris prosecutor's office, where the complaint had been filed, will now decide whether to pursue a full-fledged investigation. According to Maktouf, a decision is expected early July.