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Students reflect on ISIS attacks

  • 4 min to read

Thousands of people attended a memorial service at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Nov. 15, 2015. Children sat on their parents' shoulders and old ladies stood outside the church, watching the service live-streamed on their phones. "It was a very impactful moment," said Pedro Perez, a 20-year-old UF history and political science junior studying abroad in France, who took the photo.

As the brass bells of Century Tower chimed Saturday, Timothee Deschamps wept for his country.

Standing a few feet from the blue, red and white of the French flag, the UF exchange student put his hands to his face and fell to his knees.

"It hurts me directly in the heart," he said. "When I see those three colors… it makes me think of my country, all I believe in."

Between Thursday and Friday, in just 24 hours, the world was shaken by multiple attacks.

In Paris, six attacks were carried out: 129 dead, about 352 wounded. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the shootings and bombings in public places, including a stadium and a concert hall. In Beirut, two suicide bombings were carried out: 43 dead, about 239 wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombings in a southern neighborhood.

An earthquake off the southwest coast of Japan also triggered a tsunami Friday. There were no reported injuries or damages.

In the aftermath of the attacks, UF students both in Gainesville and abroad reached out to loved ones as they began to mourn and heal.

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George Esenwein said it’s impossible to prevent terrorism.

The UF history professor, who teaches political terrorism, said the Paris and Beirut attacks are proof of a cultural war going on as a result of past U.S. policies, including the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

When the U.S. took out al-Qaida, it left a power vacuum, he said, which allowed for groups like ISIS to form.

"Nobody even thought of a movement that could be more extremist," he said.

It’s impossible to prevent terrorism because a state can’t police everywhere, he said. But people want to see immediate response after terrorist attacks.

France carried out an immediate response Sunday night as it launched airstrikes on ISIS sites in Raqqa, Syria.

"You don’t get immediate gratification by bombing somebody or killing somebody," he said. "There’s no way of ever really eliminating terrorism."

In order to take on ISIS, countries need to unite, he said.

"That kind of pressure is going to be the only way you can stop it in its tracks," he said.

UF found itself dealing with the Paris attacks, as staff contacted students studying abroad.

All UF students have been contacted and are safe, said Jen Day Shaw, the associate vice president and dean of students.

Whenever major events happen where UF students are studying, their information is pulled immediately and they are contacted, she said. All UF students in Paris received emails and are accounted for.

UF follows the U.S. Department of State’s guidelines on warnings and safety concerns in each country, she said.

UF would never tell students they have to come back to the U.S., she said, but the International Center, which runs the study abroad programs, will continue checking in on the students in Paris.

"A lot of it depends on you," she said.

The university also reached out to students from France, she said. No students from France have reported losing a loved one.

• • •

Pedro Perez was in Paris, but he found out about the attacks on Twitter.

The UF history and political science junior, who is studying abroad, initially thought there was only one isolated shooting, he said.

He said he realized the city was under attack at 9:20 p.m.

On Sunday, at 6:15 p.m., he stood with thousands outside a memorial service at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Parisians sung and prayed as children sat on their parents’ shoulders and elderly women reclined by the gates of the church, Perez, 20, said.

Paris is a city of freedom: freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, he said.

"You can’t take away the spirit of freedom," he said. "You can’t take liberty away from them."

Assiata Adams, a 21-year old UF exchange student from France, said her family lives right by the Stade de France, a soccer stadium just north of Paris, where two explosions occurred in the first half of a men’s soccer match between France and Germany.

After she heard the news of this attack and the handful of others scattered around Paris, Adams began to frantically phone her family.

"It was the only thing we could do," she said. "I feel useless."

Adams said her brother-in-law Robert witnessed one of the attacks Friday night, but he hasn’t spoken about what he saw to anyone. He’s still in shock.

Adams isn’t sure what the future holds for France. All she can do is hope for better times.

"I feel like this is the start of a war, but we don’t know against who," she said. "I’m scared for my parents, I’m scared for everyone."

Elsa Bouchenot couldn’t sleep Friday night. Over and over, the UF business sophomore would imagine her older sister, Charlotte, walking into gunfire. She would imagine Charlotte walking down Boulevard Voltaire to print a term paper.

And then the attacks would begin.

"In my head I kept picturing her being there," the 18-year-old said. But Charlotte is in the next room, on vacation in the U.S.

Bouchenot was born in Paris and lived there until she was 9 years old. Half of her family lives there, many on the streets where the attacks took place.

To her, the city is like a colorful painting. But after Friday’s attacks, the canvas went black.

"The color, the lights, the people, everything was just sucked out of it at once," she said.

On the night of the attacks, Bouchenot’s friend, Adrien, was drinking a beer at a restaurant down the street from La Belle Equipe, a restaurant where 19 people were shot and killed.

"For me it was really hard because I recognize the streets, I know where it is, I know the restaurants," Bouchenot said. "I wish I was there to share their pain, to share my support...and help them go through this."

• • •

For Jill Adams, the earthquake wasn’t a big deal.

The secretary of UF’s Japanese Student Association said because the earthquake resulted in no injuries or damages, it didn’t need the media coverage, the 21-year-old said.

But the UF Japanese and psychology senior said she felt the Beirut bombing has been neglected in the aftermath of both attacks.

"If you look, people are changing their (Facebook) pictures to the French flag," she said, adding that the media focuses on mostly Western countries. "There’s no Lebanese flag filter."

However, Nuha Nourieh doesn’t care about the lack of Lebanese flags on her Facebook timeline, or the lack of a check-in system for her friends and family to make sure she’s alive.

"Facebook’s the least of my worries," the 23-year-old said. "We’re way over this. The division starts before and with more important things."

To Nourieh, a Syrian native working in Beirut, the attacks are no longer a shock — and neither is the lack of media coverage.

"I think they think ISIS is coming from us, as in Arabs, so they don’t need to show support or anything," she said. "They feel like we’ve inflicted this upon ourselves."

When living in the Middle East, Nourieh said, mourning individual bombings would become overwhelming.

"We would spend our lives mourning if we do that," she said.

Contact Martin Vassolo at [email protected]

Contact Caitlin Ostroff at [email protected]