The knife attack on a village ball in Crépol in the south of France which took the life of 16-year-old Thomas Perrotto and left two other partygoers in critical condition last weekend has been described as a “terror attack” (attentat) by attendees. The incident has been commonly described as a “brawl” (rixe) in French mainstream media, with the implication that it was sparked by some prior dispute. But attendees and their families adamantly reject this description, insisting on the fact that the assailants – teenagers and young adults like their victims – came armed and presumably with the intention of using their weapons.
The French regional newspaper the Dauphiné Libéré visited Crépol the day after the attack to talk with some 20 youngsters, aged 16 to 18, who witnessed the attack. Some of them were accompanied by their mothers. “Some media are saying that it was a brawl or payback,” one mother told the newspaper. “That’s not true! We can’t let them say that!”
The Dauphiné article provides the account of one young partygoer who was himself wounded in the attack:
We were having fun, we were with friends, having a good time together, and towards the end [of the ball], some people turned up. I heard there was a ruckus outside, people were crowded together. I went out and I was stabbed with a knife in the shoulder and in the back. I saw my friend Thomas get stabbed, I got scared and went back into the ballroom. I saw another friend of mine get stabbed in the back, I put pressure on his wound to make a tourniquet. His kidney was hit. It was horrifying. For me, it was clearly a terror attack [attentat]. The assailants said: “We’re here to stab white people.”
A second young man confirmed this account:
It wasn’t just a fight like we’re used to, where people throw little punches at each other. We all went to village balls this summer. In a good ball, there’s always a fight at the end. Otherwise, it’s not a good ball. But it wasn’t like that. We saw between 15 and 20 people turn up. We didn’t know them. They pulled out knives. They were there to kill. We experienced it as a terror attack!
The local affiliate of France3 public television gathered similar testimony in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Maxence, a friend of Thomas, described the violence as gratuitous:
A bouncer had his fingers and wrist slashed. One of my classmates was stabbed with a knife. My best friend [Thomas] being given CPR. It’s the worst feeling in the world.
A mother described her children’s reaction:
Their first words were: there’s blood everywhere. It was all over his clothes. It was a slaughter. It was a gratuitous attack… we don’t understand.
The racial or ethnic aspect evoked in some of this testimony has been treated gingerly or not at all in the French national media. (Though an interview with Thomas’s mother in the mass-circulation French weekly Paris-Match cites concordant testimony.) The assailants are reported to have mostly come from the housing projects of la Monnaie, a troubled neighbourhood in nearby Romans-sur-Isère with a large population of North African Arab origins.
This is undoubtedly what inspired the local Islamic Association of Romans to issue a statement to the Dauphiné libéré condemning the attack. It reads in part:
We are father, mother, brother, sister, we are residents of Romans, residents of the surrounding villages and it is for all these reasons that we are deeply affected by the attack which led to the death of Thomas and has given rise to so much sorrow for his family and his friends. … As representatives of the Muslim religious community, but also as actors involved in the life of our city, we strongly condemn these despicable acts which led to the death of a young man who was barely 16.
In the meanwhile, the Dauphiné libéré has released extensive audio of its encounter with the young people who lived through that Crépol attack. The youngsters’ testimony is harrowing. Many of them, especially the young women, are sobbing as they recount the experience.
Echoing the first, the second young man quoted above explicitly states, “I clearly heard the phrase, word for word: ‘We’re here to kill white people.'”
All of the youngsters emphasise that there was no dispute, no background to the attack, no ‘payback’: that they did not even know the assailants. Again and again, they use the word attentat – the French term for a terror attack – to describe what transpired. They describe taking refuge inside the ballroom while the ‘slaughter’, as they put it, continued outside; they describe the guards or bouncers who had been hired for the evening insisting that they stay inside, even as some wanted to go back out to help their fallen comrades; they describe seeing the floors and walls covered in the blood of those who had already been wounded.
Asked how the ‘slaughter’ finally came to an end, one young man responds simply: “They finished what they came to do.”
Translations from the French by the author.