In silence and mourning, France marked five years since 130 people were killed by Islamist extremists who targeted the Bataclan concert hall, Paris cafés and the national stadium in a series of coordinated attacks.
The night of carnage on November 13, 2015, which saw 130 people killed and 350 wounded, was France’s deadliest peacetime attack, deeply shaking the nation.
It led to intensified French military action against extremists abroad and a security crackdown at home.
>> Five years on, Parisians remember how the November 13 terror attacks unfolded
Five years later, Prime Minister Jean Castex led silent ceremonies at the multiple sites targeted by coordinated attackers around the French capital: the Stade de France in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, the Bataclan, and five cafes in eastern Paris where gunfire shattered the balmy Friday night.
The public could not join this year’s commemorations because of France’s partial virus lockdown.
Victims of Paris 2015 attacks: How to live five years after ?
The sheer horror of the attacks, which were claimed by extremists from the Islamic State (IS) group, has left scars that have still not healed. Five years on, the country is again on its highest security alert following a spate of attacks blamed on Islamist radicals.
Friday’s anniversary comes with France still reeling from three attacks in the last weeks: a knife attack outside the former offices of the Charlie Hebdo weekly, the beheading of a teacher and a deadly stabbing spree at a Nice church.
In the last five years, 20 attacks have been carried out on French soil, 19 plots failed and 61 were foiled.
There has been an increasing trend of attacks being carried out by isolated individuals, previously unknown to the intelligence services, who are inspired by jihadist propaganda and carry out attacks with cold weapons needing little preparation.
Historian Christian Delage looks at the impact of the November 13 terror attacks
But the threat of an attack planned from outside France – as was the case on November 13, 2015 – remains serious.
“Just because [the IS group] has suffered a military defeat does not mean its military capacities have been annihilated,” said a French official involved in the fight against terror, who asked not to be named.
Between 100 and 200 French jihadists are still believed to be in former IS group strongholds in northern Iraq and Syria, and it would be an “illusion” to think they were not capable of clandestinely coming back to France, added the official.
In January 2015, Islamist gunmen massacred staff at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly, claiming they were avenging its publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.
True to its defiant reputation, the magazine republished the cartoons to mark the start in September of the trial of suspected accomplices in the killings.
In the wake of that move, a Pakistan-born man wounded two people with a meat cleaver on September 25 outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices.
Teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his class the cartoons, was beheaded outside his school on October 16 by an Islamist radical from Chechnya. And on October 29 a man recently arrived from Tunisia killed three people with a knife in a Nice church.
The attacks reopened painful debates in France about the integration of the country’s Muslim population – the largest in Europe – and also prompted tougher rhetoric from President Emmanuel Macron against radical Islamism.
In turn, Macron’s defiant stance triggered a wave of protests in some Muslim countries and calls for a boycott of French goods.
>> ‘Islam is being hyper-politicised in France, but Muslims are not part of the debate’
On Thursday, the IS group claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on Western diplomats attending an Armistice Day ceremony in Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah. That came weeks after a knife-wielding assailant injured a guard at the French consulate in Jeddah.
Paris 2015 attacks commemoration: “It’s a catharsis”
Security sources say the terror threat is higher in the context of the current Charlie Hebdo trial and another trial over the Paris attacks, which is due to open early next year.
These hearings keep up “a kind of background noise” with the risk of “actions of support to those” who are on trial, said the security source.
The 2021 trial into the Paris attacks will see just one of the suspecter perpetrators in the dock – French-Belgian Salah Abdeslam.
Nineteen other suspects accused of providing various logistical support will be on trial with him, though five are presumed dead in Iraq or Syria will be tried in absentia.
The suspected coordinator of the attacks – Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud who shot indiscriminately at packed cafe terraces that night – was killed five days later in a police assault on the Paris suburb of Saint Denis.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)