Saturday, 19 June 2021

Student caught up in Paris terror attacks

A STUDENT from Henley has told how she was almost caught up in the Paris terror attacks in which 129 people died, writes James Burton

A STUDENT from Henley has told how she was almost caught up in the Paris terror attacks in which 129 people died, writes James Burton.

Amy Brandis, 20, who is studying in the French capital, was on her way to see a friend in the Place de la République on Friday night when gunmen shot 39 people in attacks on two restaurants and a café.

One incident happened in rue Alibert, a few doors from where her friend lives, and she would have been there had she not decided on a last-minute change of clothes.

Within minutes of arriving at her own flat in the second arrondissement, she received several messages from friends warning her to stay indoors.

By then, three members of the same gang of Islamic extremists had carried out suicide bombings at the Stade de France football stadium, where France and Germany were playing a friendly.

Gunmen shot dead another 89 people at the Bataclan music hall by firing into the crowd watching a rock concert.

Miss Brandis barricaded herself in her flat for about 35 hours and used Twitter to contact her parents Mark and Sara, who live in Western Road, to let them know she was safe.

She said: ?It was a confusing time because a shooting in a city is, sadly, not a rare occurrence.

?However, as the news came in over the following 20 minutes, it became clear that this was not ordinary.

?I began contacting my friends in the city to tell them to stay inside or, if they were out, to get to a safe place immediately.

?I suppose the worst part was that confusion and hearing the sirens rise outside while helicopters circled overhead.

?My main aim after that was to try to spread accurate information about the whereabouts of the attacks to my friends. I began to receive messages from friends all over the world as major news stations picked up on what was happening.

?We were told not to go outside and there was never a clear point after that when the danger had ?ended?. I left the flat properly for the first time on Sunday to buy food and get some fresh air.

?It was actually a beautiful day of sunshine and it was a comfort to see families out on the streets and shops open for business. I didn?t feel particularly calm or normal but those sights helped.?

Miss Brandis is in the third year of an English literature and creative writing degree at the University of Warwick but currently on an Erasmus year in Paris, where she is a student at the Sorbonne IV Université.

Earlier this week, she returned to the Place de la Republique to lay flowers in tribute to those who died.

She said: ?Life has not completely returned to normal yet. On Wednesday a raid occurred in Saint Denis which lasted more than six hours and left two suspects dead and others injured.

?Friends are still cautious, of course, but life on the streets feels relatively normal apart from the strong police presence and the fact that you can?t get in anywhere without a bag check and sometimes identification.?

Miss Brandis, who works at the Upstairs and Downstairs tea rooms in Duke Street during her holidays, will come home for Christmas but said she would resist the urge to return early.

She said: ?The aim of any terrorist is to destroy what is normal to a culture so I will be staying here until Christmas ? however tempting it might be to go home and hug my family ? in defiance of that.

?My thoughts and prayers now, like many, are with those in Syria whose lives are being destroyed by French, Russian and the American governments as a backlash."

The victims of the Paris tragedy were remembered at various events in Henley.

At Tuesday?s meeting of the town council, members observed a minute?s silence for victims of the attacks and 43 people who died in similar attacks in Beirut the previous day.

On Sunday, Henley Hawks? women?s rugby team observed a minute?s silence before their match against Saracens at Dry Leas.

Edward Sandars, chairman of the Henley-Falaise Twinning Association, said he had sent a message of condolence to his opposite number in France.

He said: ?I extended our deepest sympathies and sincere hopes that none of their families was involved. Many people living in Falaise have younger relatives in Paris.

Henley MP John Howell said: ?My thoughts are with the people of Paris ? it is a very traumatised city that is now coming to terms with the tragedy.

?Anything we can do to help them must be in our own interests as much as theirs. Gathering intelligence has always played a crucial part in the battle against terrorism and the more we can achieve on that front, the better.

?There has been a lot of talk about Parliament?s ?cowardice? in not voting for military action in Syria but I would point out that I voted in favour and am proud of it.?

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