PARIS – Before Friday’s bloodbath at Le Bataclan concert venue in Paris, this centrally-located hall from the 19th century had received numerous threats over pro-Israel events hosted there.
For several years, Le Bataclan hosted the annual fundraising gala of the French Jewish Migdal nonprofit group for the Israeli Border Police. Last month, it hosted a gathering of some 500 Zionist Christians who came there in support of the Jewish state.
In one case involving threats against Le Bataclan, a group of approximately 10 men wearing Arab keffiyehs over their faces arrived in December 2008 at the theatre, demanding to speak to management.
“This is something we cannot continue to accept,” one of the men from the group was filmed telling the security guards outside Le Bataclan. “You will pay the consequences of your actions,” the same person, his voice electronically distorted, told the camera after the confrontation, which ended peacefully. “We came here to pass along a small message. Be warned. Next time we won’t be coming here to talk.”
The massacre at Le Bataclan Friday, during a rock concert by the Eagles of Death Metal band from the United States, was by far the deadliest of the six simultaneous attacks which French security forces said were perpetrated by at least eight terrorists. According to a tally released by French authorities on Saturday, 128 people died and some 350 were wounded. 99 of them are in critical condition.
Acting on a plan which French President Francois Hollande said was organized outside France by the Islamic State “terrorist army” and carried out with accomplices in France, the assailants struck two cafes, two restaurants and a soccer stadium north of Paris, using automating firearms and explosive charges.
At Le Bataclan, two terrorists fired at patrons at random but in a calm and deliberate manner, survivors said. Police stormed the building approximately 40 minutes after the killing began. The terrorists were killed in the takeover.
Whereas the men who showed up at Le Bataclan in 2008 presented themselves as “residents of the area,” threats of attack against the concert hall as payback for Israel’s actions also included foreign players, according to a 2011 report by Le Figaro.
According to that report, a French woman named Dodi Hoxha told French counterterrorism officers in 2010 of a plot by Jaish Islam, Al Qaeda’s branch in Gaza whose name means “the Army of Islam”, to organize an attack at Le Bataclan, which Hoxha said had been selected because “the owners are Jewish.”
Hoxha was arrested that year in connection with an attack against French students in Cairo in 2009, in which one student died. DGSE, the French external security agency, believed the attack on the students in Cairo was to punish France for its perceived role in Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
According to the website of Le Bataclan, the venue is being run by Jules Frutos and Olivier Poubelle, who owned most or all of the place until the media group of the billionaire Arnaud Lagardère bought 70 per cent of the asset in September.
Attempts to verify claims of a Jewish link relevant to Frutos, Poubelle or Lagardère were not immediately successful.
But for France’s far-right Jewish Defense League, LDJ, the threats against Le Bataclan are proof that it was targeted as punishment for hosting pro-Israel events. “Pro-Palestinian groups designated it openly as a ‘Zionist’ concert hall, and now we see the result,” LDJ wrote in a statement shortly after the attacks. “France woke up to a taste of ‘Palestine.’”
Yet Nicolas Shashani, a prominent French pro-Palestinian activist, said that despite some incidents, Le Bataclan is not generally associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Le Bataclan may have had a Zionist link in the past, but if the perpetrators wanted to select a site tied to Israel to send a message, it doesn’t strike me as a very effective target,” he said. “To the general population, Le Bataclan is just a concert hall and nothing more,” he said.
Shashani noted that “unsubstantiated rumors” also linked the attack to the Eagles of Death Metal band, because it performed in Israel in July. During the concert in Tel Aviv, lead singer Jesse Hughes recalled how Roger Waters, a former member of the Pink Floyd band and a promoter of a boycott against Israel, asked the band to stay away. “I answered with two words: F**ck you!” he told the cheering audience, adding: “I would never boycott a place like this.”
The band escaped the attack unscathed.
Shashani said it was “far-fetched” to suppose the band was the reason for Le Bataclan’s targeting.
“In previous attacks, there were clear targets,” Shashani said. “Soldiers, cops, a kosher supermarket. This time, the attacks were against cafes, restaurants, a soccer stadium – attacks against the Frenchman on the street.”