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Early on Saturday, investigators dressed in white suits and blue face masks shuffled in and out of the Café Bonne Bière in Paris’s 11th arrondissement, removing debris and evidence from Friday night’s deadly terrorist attack.
A group of onlookers stood motionless under the slate grey sky, talking in lowered voices and staring in disbelief at the scene where gunmen had opened fire just a few hours before.
On another corner of the same block, neighbours hugged each other outside Le Petit Cambodge restaurant and Le Carillon, a neighbourhood café, where gunmen shot indiscriminately at Parisians in a second terror scene.
Isabelle Vauconsant, a local resident, was driving by when the horror began. “I thought they were making a film,” she said as she described how two or three men emptied the clips of their automatic weapons into the buzzing Friday evening crowd. “I just couldn’t believe that what I was seeing was real.”
She said she saw people being hit and then falling to the ground. “I turned the car and got away as quickly as I could,” she recalls. “It was only later when I got home that the fear and the shock started to sink in.”
Many of the mourners outside Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon on Saturday were still struggling to understand what had happened — and why it had happened in their neighbourhood: the 10th and 11th arrondissements are known for being more mixed than many other areas of the French capital. The school just a few yards from the carnage last year painted a mural with more than 50 languages to represent the diversity of its students.
Visibly shaken and holding back tears, Camille, a local resident who had left Le Carillon café just 10 minutes before the shooting started stepped over the dried blood on the pavement and set a small candle on the doorstep.
“It’s a mystery because this is such an open place with people of all races and ages,” she said. “It’s exactly like this area of Paris.”
Passers-by stopped to pay their respects to the dead, leaving bunches of flowers and lighting candles. One person had left a set of coloured pens and leant a copy of Le Petit Prince against the bullet-riddled façade.
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“Paris is in mourning,” said one of them. One person sat cross-legged on the street in front of the café’s entrance, put her head in her hands and began to weep.
Outside the nearby Bataclan concert hall, where more than 100 people died after gunmen opened fire and then blew themselves up, the bunches of flowers started to pile up as Parisians began to pay tribute to the victims of the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history.
Amid the pools of still-fresh blood on the pavement, shoes and clothes that panicked survivors had left the night before as they fled, residents wrote messages and left them in a pile.
One, pinned to a bouquet of roses, said: “To those I knew and to those I didn’t.” Another read: “to the angels of rock n’ roll” — a tribute to the dozens of people who had gone to see a rock concert at the Bataclan on Friday evening but never returned home.
Sepher Ilagui, a resident, said he was not surprised by the terrorists’ choice of targets. “This area is very popular at night and there are always lots of people around,” he said of the 10th and 11th arrondissements. “They didn’t care about people’s skin colour; they just wanted to maximise the number of victims.”
He also said he thought another attack had been inevitable following the terrorism suffered by the city in January, when armed men killed staff at the city’s satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo. “This is a war,” he said. “It’s the price we pay for upholding our values and for defending our democracy.”
But like many Parisians on Saturday, Mr Ilagui, who was originally born in Iran, said he would not bow to the resulting fear.
“We are not going to change a thing about Paris life,” he said. “People are going to come together and rise up against this.”
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