Paris: President Francois Hollande vowed today to destroy the “army of fanatics” behind the Paris attacks but also said France would respond with more songs, concerts and shows as the nation paused to honour the 130 killed.
“On November 13, a day we will never forget, France was hit at its very heart,” Hollande told a solemn ceremony in the courtyard of the historic Invalides, the 17th-century complex housing Napoleon’s tomb.
“To all of you, I solemnly promise that France will do everything to destroy the army of fanatics that committed these crimes,” he said before a crowd of 2,600 dignitaries and some of those injured in the violence.
Some of the wounded sat in wheelchairs, while firefighters and ambulance personnel in uniform stood silently in rows, two weeks to the day since gunmen opened fire on bars, restaurants and a concert hall and detonated suicide vests at the Stade de France stadium.
Photographs of the victims were displayed on a giant screen, their young faces evidence that the attackers struck at those enjoying a Friday night out in the French capital.
“We will not give in either to fear or to hate,” said Hollande, vowing that the French would respond to the attacks defiantly, with more “songs, concerts and shows. We will continue to go to stadiums.”
The attacks — claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group in response for French air strikes on the jihadists in Iraq and Syria — were the worst-ever terror attack on French soil, leaving 130 dead and 350 injured. Most were under 35.
Hollande said “130 destinies had been stolen, 130 laughs that will never be heard again,” adding that they had come from more than 50 places in France and 17 countries.
The attackers acted “in the name of an insane cause and a betrayed God,” he said.
However, a handful of the victims’ families boycotted today’s ceremony, saying the government failed to take sufficient measures to protect the nation in the wake of the jihadist shootings at Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper and a Jewish supermarket in Paris in January.
“Thanks Mr President, politicians, but we don’t want your handshake or your tribute, and we hold you partly responsible for what has happened!” Emmanuelle Prevost, whose brother was one of the 90 slaughtered at the Bataclan concert hall on November 13, wrote on Facebook.
Reflecting the solemnity of the ceremony, Liberation and Le Parisien newspapers listed all the victims on their front pages today in stark black and white print.
Having vowed to crush IS for their role in the attacks, Hollande has spent the week in a whirlwind diplomatic bid to build a broad military coalition, although his efforts have met with limited success.