Attacks cast pall over Christmas in Paris

2015-12-24 18:07
A soldier patrols in front of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. (Christophe Ena, AP)

A soldier patrols in front of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. (Christophe Ena, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - It was a subdued Christmas Eve in Paris on Thursday, with tourist numbers down, security bolstered at shops and churches, and locals still on edge after last month's jihadist attacks

Heavily armed soldiers patrolled outside the iconic Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores in the city centre, still doing a brisk last-minute Christmas trade, but notably less crowded than usual.

"It's a lot quieter," said taxi driver Belkassem. "I feel bad for the hotels and restaurants because there are a lot fewer tourists in town this year and this is a crucial time of year for them."

The famous "bateaux-mouches" boats that carry millions of tourists each year along the Seine have reported a 15-30% drop in business since the attacks of November 13, which left 130 dead and hundreds injured.

It is not only France that is feeling the tension this festive season. Christians around the world are bracing for potential attacks at a symbolic time of year - even in China where the US and British embassies warned of possible violence against Westerners in Beijing.

But Paris - the world's most-visited city - has naturally taken the worst blow in the wake of last month's attacks, with flight reservations down nearly a third compared with a year earlier.

Tourist guide Cecile Reverdy, who translates mostly for Chinese visitors, described a massive fall in business from some countries.

"There are around 30% less Chinese - only 30% because the Chinese are pretty daring," she told France television.

"But for other languages, in Japanese or American, there is a drop of practically 80%."

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has sought to reassure visitors, and put a brave face on the economic damage.

"There is a great resilience in this city," she said recently.

"Of course there are worries and we will never forget the victims, but activity is restarting."

 Heightened church security 

For those who treat Christmas as a religious holiday, the attacks have brought other ominous changes.

Unprecedented security checks have been put in place at many of France's 50 000 churches, as bags are checked and visitors asked to open their coats to check for guns or explosive vests.

The government called on congregations "to pay particular attention to abandoned packages or bags", saying Christmas church services "could constitute targets of exceptional symbolic force".

France only narrowly escaped a church attack earlier this year, when a 24-year-old Algerian, Sid Ahmed Ghlam, accidentally shot himself in the leg.

Police discovered an arsenal of weapons, tactical gear and jihadist documents in Ghlam's car and student flat, as well as detailed plans to attack churches in the Paris suburb of Villejuif.

But the atmosphere of fear could nonetheless boost attendance.

"There will be a lot of people at Christmas, maybe more this year given what we're living through," said Olivier Dumas, spokesperson for the Conference of French Bishops.

"The Sundays after the attacks of November 13, we saw more people in our churches. People had a need to look inwards, to reflect on life and society."

Threats around the world 

Around the globe on Thursday people were facing an edgy Christmas.

The British and US embassies in China issued a warning about possible threats against "Westerners" in a popular Beijing neighbourhood ahead of the holiday.

Some separatist militants in the mostly-Muslim region of Xinjiang in western China have styled themselves as jihadists, though attacks have not previously targeted foreigners.

In Somalia, religious authorities have cancelled Christmas entirely out of fear that festivities could attract violence.

"We are warning against the celebration of such events which are not relevant to the principles of our religion," said Sheikh Nur Barud Gurhan, of the Supreme Religious Council.

He warned they could provoke the al-Qaeda-linked Shebaab "to carry out attacks".

All of which pales in comparison to the fear of celebrating Christmas in the Syrian town of Sadad, on the front lines with the Islamic State group.

Only a few families remain in Sadad, once a Syriac Orthodox-majority town in the centre of the country.

"I haven't put up a Christmas tree in my house for the past four years because the situation does not allow us to, and because I can't find a place for joy in my home," said Youssef, a retired 65-year-old man, whose family has fled to a safer village.

Another elderly resident, Mtanyos Mawas, sums up his hopes for the holidays.

"All I want is for this Christmas to pass in peace."

Read more on:    france  |  religion  |  paris under attack

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.