Nov 25th, 2021, 07:04 PM

AUP's Reflections on Terrorist Attacks 6 Years Later

By Claire Moberg
Image credit Unsplash/Robin Ooode
With a massive criminal trial underway in Paris, AUP remembers the uncertainty and fear driven by the 2015 terrorist attacks.

Six years after mass terrorist attacks shook Paris and the world, a high profile trial and a tense political climate have prompted reflection within the AUP community. The International and Comparative Politics Board organized a group of students to attend the tribunal on Wednesday 24th and hear the testimonies of French and Belgian investigators. This event has forced the entire campus to reflect on their memories of the coordinated terrosit attacks. They targeted the vibrant youth and leisure culture characteristic of Parisians on November 13, 2015, resulting in the death of 130 people. The high death and injury toll was the largest act of violence in France since World War II. While no one at AUP was directly affected, the community was deeply impacted by the horror of the events. The trial is the largest in recent history and will last until April 2022. There are 20 defendants present and testimony is set to be heard from dozens of survivors, first responders, and former French President Francois Hollande.

The only defendant currently on trial who was directly involved in the attacks is Salah Abdeslam, a Belgian born French national with ties to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Abdeslam was supposed to set off a bomb in a crowded area along with the other attackers on November 13, but abandoned his suicide vest and fled to Belgium.  He has maintained his stance that the attacks were committed in honor of Jihadist principles and in revolt against then French President Francois Hollande's military attacks against the Islamic State in Syria. 


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While the trauma from the events caused some students to finish the semester early, the moment also created a strong sense of solidarity in the community. "The semester finished and everyone was exhausted and a bit sad, but everyone was taking comfort in the community we have here," AUP's Kevin Fore said. As the Dean of Students, Fore stayed up until early that next morning attempting to assess the situation, contact students, and implement communication to ease the fears of community members. 

Dean Fore acknowledged the significance of the trial but explained that he personally wouldn't be following along. The trial has brought the November 2015 attacks back onto the daily news cycle, but Fore explains he has already thought about it every day for the past six years. "I think about the risk all the time of things that could happen and things that are happening in the world," said Fore, "It's difficult stuff to process and I've already kind of processed it." 

In an email sent to students on November 20, 2015, a week after the attacks, President Celeste M. Schenck expressed her continued state of sorrow and acknowledged the struggles the AUP community may be facing. Students were encouraged to reach out to counselors provided by AUP and attend events organized to promote collective healing, including a vigil held at the American Church of Paris. While academics weren't halted, the administration provided space for students to grieve the horrors of what happened in their city. 

In a university strongly connected to the city of Paris, the attacks threatened more than only student safety. The lifestyle, culture, and community of the city were targeted. The sites of the attacks on that Friday night included the Stade de France during a French soccer match, a rock concert, and bars in the bustling 10th and 11th arrondissements. "They targeted that area because that's where young people were enjoying themselves, having fun," AUP Professor Matthew Fraser said. 

Paris is known for its bustling dining scene, especially on weekends when people embrace the leisurely French culture through food. Fraser was eating dinner at a restaurant on Rue Cler in the 7th arrondissement when the attacks occurred. Once Fraser was made aware of the multitude of restaurant shootings via twitter, he immediately headed home. "I can remember walking home because everybody looked like they were in a state of confusion," said Fraser, "They were racing and worried, there was this strange feeling of everyone trying to get home."

The Stade de France was the first target, although the suicide bombs were detonated just outside of the stadium. Although the other coordinated attacks at the restaurants and Bataclan concert hall followed shortly after, there was still uncertainty about the connection between the attacks. Other acts of radical violence in France and mounting threats of Jihadist violence alerted many Parisians that the attacks across the city were likely more sinister, as Fraser noted. 

"You can't have multiple gunfire attacks and it not be coordinated, right?" Fraser said. 

November 2015 was simply the peak of a course of radical violence in France. Jihadist terrorists killed 12 people in January of 2015 in an attack targeted at the controversial satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The magazine is known for publishing controversial depictions of religious figures and making crude comments about religion. The two men targeted Charlie Hebdo's employees because of an offensive image of Allah that the magazine published. An associate of the men responsible for Charlie Hebdo shot and killed four people in a Jewish supermarket a few days later, citing the same Jihadist principles as the driving force behind the attack. All three men were killed in police standoffs following the attacks. 

The terrorist attacks created the need for change at AUP. In response to the attacks, security measures increased dramatically on campus. Security guards are placed at all building entrances, additional cameras were installed, and all students still have access to emergency assistance from third-party security company International SOS.

With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down their beloved city for much of 2020, AUP was reminded of the last time their world was turned upside down. Now with classes resuming in person and the monumental trial aiming for some form of justice, perhaps closure is imminent. 

The effects of that Friday night are still felt tangibly by Dean Fore, both professionally and personally. Security became an increasing concern for his office and the entire development team. Fore also follows international political news more consistently in an effort to maintain awareness of current events. Fore revealed a flyer for a costume party at the Bataclan, scheduled for November 16, 2015. He has kept it in his desk drawer for six years, even amidst the numerous events and crises that have overwhelmed universities around the world. 

"There's probably a reason why that's still in my drawer," Fore said. As the community moves forward with the university's 60th anniversary and new development plans to improve academic and student life, the heartbreak from six years ago remains.