French expat stunned by terrorist attacks in Paris
GYMPIE French expat Caroline Vielle says the millions of her compatriots taking to the streets in unity is a defiant demonstration that Islamic terrorists' hopes to divide a nation have failed.
Mrs Vielle has joined Australians in watching the horrific events of the past week unfold in Paris, where three separate terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 17 people across two bloody days.
The terror, first unleashed on January 7 with the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, claimed the lives of 12 people and Mrs Vielle has struggled to grapple with what had happened in her home country.
"I was just stunned," Mrs Vielle said yesterday, pouring over newspaper reports.
Mrs Vielle moved to Australia with her partner in 2002 and said the attack on the French newspaper evoked an emotional response.
"I grew up with the cartoons," she said.
"People knew of the cartoons - they were a childhood memory.
"Some people loved to hate them, but I had an emotional connection to that part of my childhood."
And with the numbing realisation of the senseless loss of life, the death of a policewoman a day later and the further loss of four lives in a Paris supermarket on January 9 added to the shock.
The locations of the attacks on the policewoman and supermarket were the backdrop to Mrs Vielle's everyday working life before moving to Australia.
"It all happened very close to where my parents used to live," she said.
"I could walk there from the house - it was in the immediate area.
"I can picture it all in my mind."
Where both terrorist brothers crashed their car before fleeing on foot, leading to the stand-off with police in an Industrial complex building, was also right next to the street the Gympie resident would often walk to catch the train to work.
Mrs Vielle's parents still reside in France, but are out of harm's way in a regional area in the country's south.
"They told me they watched television for two days straight," Mrs Vielle said.
"They were just glued to the television watching the live events unfold.
"Like me, they were just in shock at what had happened and what was still happening in real time."
Living in France directly after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Mrs Vielle vividly recalled the concern that swept the city at the time.
"There were armed police everywhere and simple things like having bins were taken away because they could house a bomb," she said.
"These day-to-day impacts will be back again and everyone will be affected."
Mrs Vielle felt France had shown its strength in responding collectively to pay tribute to the victims, proving the nation would not cower in fear.
"There were concerns, of course, about gathering in public after what had happened, but people decided to do it anyway," she said.
"The French are resilient people and there is still a belief in politics; an expectation (politicians) will do the right thing."
As for the broader issues of free speech brought into focus by the French satirical magazine's cartoons, Mrs Vielle said she felt it was important in free society that questioned be continued to be asked.
"You may not agree, but free speech is one of a few things we still have left, and the right to ask questions," she said.