‘War Scene’: Paris Attacks Survivor Says He Was Saved by Passport

PARIS — Two weeks after the terrorist attacks that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more, Yasser Bensalah is still reeling.

151128-nightly-news-yasser-bensalah-paris-survivor-yh-1120a_1a47c94510a4ea7443301b7b2181fa2e.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Yasser Bensalah, who was having coffee with friends at the Bataclan cafe on the night of the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, 2015. He was hurt but survived.

The 35-year-old ophthalmologist from Morocco had come to Paris on vacation five days before the attacks.

He had dinner at a friend’s house, then went out to the Bataclan Café for coffee. They were sitting, laughing, telling stories — when around 9:45 p.m. on Nov. 13, he heard what he first thought was an explosion.

It was gunfire.

His jacket, which was closed, suddenly split open when a bullet ricocheted off the zipper.

The bullet hit Bensalah’s passport in his jacket pocket, just above his heart. Had it not been there, he said, he might not be alive.

Others were not as lucky.

One of his friends who was sitting next to him yelled and then fell to the ground. His other friend was also shot, but didn’t fall. They stayed there for the next few seconds, he said, in solidarity.

Bensalah realized he had been hit — the bullet ricocheting off the zipper and striking his passport.

“I had a survival reflex,” he told NBC News. “I took a table and used it as a shield.”

Then he saw another couple next to him fall to the ground. The terrorists were picking them off one by one.

He said a bullet hit his leg but he didn’t feel it because of the adrenaline. The shooter was only feet away.

“I waited for the end,” he said.

But then — silence.

“It was the silence that allowed us to run,” Bensalah said. “I don’t know if they went into the bar or went to the Bataclan. I don’t know because we ran.”

His friend was running with him, but collapsed. He had been shot in the stomach. Bensalah couldn’t return for him because there was panic that the terrorists would return.

“It was horrible,” he said. “I saw people dragging their friends on the ground. I saw faces covered in blood. Clothes covered in blood — a war scene.”

Samia Maktouf, an attorney, is now representing Bensalah and other survivors as the investigation unfolds into the ISIS-claimed attacks across Paris.

“They still now don’t understand what happened,” she said of the survivors. “So part of the therapy is to understand what happens and to follow all steps of the case.”

At the memorial service in the French capital on Friday, Bensalah wept when he saw his friend’s picture shown on the large screen.

Shaken by tragedy, he said, he found comfort among the relatives of other victims, all sharing the pain of loss.

“Here were families broken,” he said. “But it did us good to be together.”

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