PARIS (AP) — When Islamic State attackers struck Paris in 2015, France's president at the time was within earshot of the first suicide bombing.
By the time the bloodshed finally ended hours later, 130 people were dead and François Hollande watched from the street as bloodied survivors staggered out of the Bataclan concert hall.
Surrounded by a squad of security guards, the former French president walked into a specially designed courtroom Wednesday to testify in the trial of 14 men over the Nov. 13, 2015, Islamic State attacks on Paris.
Hollande was at France’s national soccer stadium when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the gates that night, the first in a series of attacks across Paris that would last for three more hours.
French officials had known for months that the country could be a target, Hollande testified. He said it was even known that Islamic State extremists were entering disguised as refugees. “But we did not know where, when, or how they would strike us,” he said.
After the suicide attack at the stadium, gunmen opened fire at cafes and bars in the city center, and the night culminated with a bloody siege at the Bataclan concert hall. Hollande ordered the final assault on the three remaining attackers inside the Bataclan and shortly afterwards asked to go to the site himself, watching survivors walk out.
“I see people leaving the Bataclan, even then, holding on to each other. They see me and cannot say a single word,” he testified. “This will remain with me forever.”
All nine attackers died. Salah Abdeslam, the chief defendant in the trial, discarded a malfunctioning explosives vest and fled home to Belgium. His brother died in Paris trying to detonate his vest at a café.
Except for Abdeslam, most of the 14 men in the courtroom are accused of helping with logistics or transportation. Six others are being tried in absentia.
By LORI HINNANT Associated Press
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