Belfast Telegraph

Paris attacks: Ulster professor's relief after narrow escape from carnage

By Claire McNeilly

An academic from Northern Ireland has told how he walked past a Parisian restaurant just minutes before it was targeted by gunmen.

Professor Paddy Gray, from the University of Ulster, said there was still fear and panic in the French capital after a spate of terrorist attacks on Friday night.

Islamic State (IS) militants targeted restaurants, the Stade de France football stadium and a rock concert at Bataclan concert hall during a night of horror, killing at least 129 people people and injuring 352.

The attacks began shortly before 9pm when a gunman opened fire on Le Carillon bar in Rue Alibert, before heading across the road to Le Petit Camdoge restaurant, killing at least a dozen people.

Diners sitting in the terrace of La Casa Nostra pizzeria in Rue de la Fontaine au Roi, were also fired on, claiming five lives.

Prof Gray, who was watching a football match on television at the time, said he had walked by one of the venues just 10 minutes earlier.

"I had dinner in a restaurant and then I walked down to an Irish bar to watch a match," he said.

"I heard firecracking sounds, but I didn't know what it was, and then I began to get texts from friends telling me there was shooting in the area."

Prof Gray, who was staying at the Crown Plaza hotel in Place de la Republique in the 11th arrondisement, said he felt fortunate to have escaped unhurt.

"Seeing the bullet holes in the windows of La Casa Nostra, which I had walked past about 10 minutes before it was attacked, really brought it home. I was lucky.

"The restaurant we had eaten in earlier was actually only 20 yards away. Had we went to the pizzeria instead, God knows what could have happened."

The academic told of panic on the city's streets when a vehicle was abandoned as the drama unfolded.

"I walked towards my hotel but it was all cordoned off ...then suddenly a car pulled up and a woman jumped out of it and left it," he said.

"The police shouted 'run'. Everybody thought it was a bomb. Then somebody shouted 'gunman' and everyone started running in different directions. In the end, it turned out she had just panicked."

Prof Gray said he initially hid in a courtyard, before being taken into a Frenchman's home along with six strangers, where he waited in safety until 3am.

Ballymena native Joyce Kearney (51), who has lived in Paris for 12 years, said security in France had been heightened since the massacre at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January.

"You always assume that because it's happened before, your turn is over," she said.

"This was unexpected because it was so soon and so brutal. It's shocking."

She added: "It's funny. One of my friends who messaged me said it's weird that we're worried about someone from Northern Ireland getting blown up in Paris."

Ms Kearney, who is a finance director at a private school, said the people behind the attacks have proved they will kill anyone - but she added that French people are very resilient.

"In terms of complete disregard for life and any religion this has taken things onto a different level," she said.

"But the French are strong. They won't give in to this."

Parish Priest Fr Aidan Troy said the gun and bomb attacks reminded him of Belfast's darkest days.

"There are going to be some many funerals in the next two weeks, it's going to be awful," said the priest, who previously served in Belfast's Ardoyne.

"This was a massive medical emergency. It's great to see the outpouring of people coming forward to give blood donations and so many doctors who are off duty coming in to help.

"The mood is very sombre in Paris. People are still trying to take in what happened on Friday night. There's a sense of shock because people were attacked at a football match, in restaurants and at a concert - all doing very normal things.

"That's distinct from the Charlie Hedbo attack because it was focused. This was indiscriminate. That's what's dawning on all of us now."

Belfast Telegraph


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