SHAFAQNA – Houda Saadi, a 35-year-old waitress of Tunisian descent, was celebrating her birthday with her sister Halima and 10 other friends at La Belle Equipe in the 11th arrondissement when two terrorists sprayed the terrace with gunfire. Houda and Halima, who leaves behind a husband and two children aged seven and two, were among the 19 people killed in Friday night’s attack.“We’re ordinary citizens who love our family. My parents are in absolute distress. We were eight brothers and sisters, now we’re down to six,” said Abdallah Saadi, a brother of Halima and Houda.
Another brother, Khaled, told iTélé television he had been working in the restaurant on the Rue de Charonne that night and found Halima’s lifeless body amid the carnage after the attackers fled. Khaled, who survived by throwing himself on to the floor “for what seemed like an eternity”, helped a friend carry the body to a restaurant next door. Houda sustained a fatal head wound in the shooting and died in hospital.
They came from varied backgrounds but the Muslim victims of the indiscriminate multiple attacks were all in the prime of their lives. They included a violinist, an architect, a receptionist and a shop assistant. As the children of France’s colonial legacy, or citizens of those countries, their deaths have cast a shroud of mourning beyond French shores to north Africa.
The Saadi family are originally from the Tunisian port town of Menzel Bourguiba but the children were raised on a council estate in the Burgundy town of Le Creusot where their parents still live. A friend of the two dead sisters, Karim, told France 3 television that both were “dynamic and hard-working. They lived life to the full.”
A wreath from the Tunisian government was among the floral tributes outside La Belle Equipe on Tuesday, still shuttered four days after the Paris attacks which left at least 129 people dead. One of the fluttering paper messages beside the restaurant reads: “We are Muslim. You are terrorists and imposters.”
“These people are fascists, it’s got nothing to do with Islam,” said Azdine, a gas fitter of Tunisian descent who works close by.
Djamila Houd, 41, had been a receptionist at the headquarters of the Isabel Marant ready-to-wear fashion house near the Palais Royal for the past three years. She too lost her life on the terrace of La Belle Equipe. A colleague said she was “very jolly and friendly” and an essential member of the closely knit team. A friend who is now on compassionate leave has posted poignant pictures of the two of them enjoying fun times on a boat trip earlier this year.
Houd, who had an eight-year-old daughter, was the youngest daughter of a noted Algerian harki who fought with the French army during the Algerian war. Theharkis struggled for many years to obtain official recognition for their loyalty to the French state.
In her home town of Dreux, 80km west of Paris, her elder sister, Tassadit, said that Djamila was a symbol that the jihadi fanatics wanted to destroy. “They hate freedom; they want to destroy it wherever it exists, the women like my sister in countries where freedom reigns. French Muslims must fight these extremists tooth and nail. The state must do everything to stop them,” she told the local newspaper, l’Echo Republicain.
The dead among France’s Muslim community included Asta Diakité, the cousin of the French footballer Lassana Diarra who was playing in the friendly against Germany on Friday night when two suicide bombers disrupted the match. Expressing his pain in a Facebook posting, the footballer said that Diakite, who worked in a chemist’s in the 18th arrondissement, was “my rock, my supporter, my elder sister”.
Moroccan architect Mohamed Amine Ibholmobarak, a 28-year-old who had completed an architectural study on the pilgrimage to Mecca, was also among the victims. Ibholmobarak, who taught at a Paris architecture institute, was shot at Le Carillon café in the 10th arrondissement while enjoying the mild autumn evening on the terrace with his wife, Maya, who was seriously wounded.
Kheireddine Sahbi, known as Didine, was a 29-year-old Algerian violinist and composer from an Algiers suburb who was studying ethno-musicology at the Sorbonne in Paris. He was killed by the gunmen on Friday night on his way home.
Many French Muslims, estimated to be at least 5 million strong, are fearful as anti-refugee sentiment has been fanned by the far-right Front National since Friday’s attacks. A Moroccan was beaten up during an anti-immigration rally by extreme-right youths in the Breton town of Pontivy on Saturday.
Jean-Pierre Filiu, an Islam scholar and Sciences Po university professor, commented to France-Inter that what Isis wanted “is that today in Paris and in France, Muslims are killed in reprisal. They want a civil war in France.”