It should have been a Friday night like any other in central Paris, with locals and visitors alike watching a show, enjoying a meal or shrugging off the cares of the week over a drink. But for the second time in less than a year, France and the world are asking how carnage could strike at the heart of this much-loved city, including at a concert hall barely a few hundred steps from January’s deadly attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo .
“As we went to our car, we saw dozens of people running out of the Bataclan,” local resident Caterina Giardino, an Italian national, said of the 19th century theatre-turned-music venue where gunman clad in black systematically killed nearly 100.
“Many of them were covered with blood, people were screaming,” she added, sitting on a bench with a friend as she recalled how one young man emerged from the concert hall with the bloody imprint of a hand on his shirt.
The exact sequence of gun and bomb assaults on the concert hall, a sports stadium and restaurants in the French capital is still unclear.
Inside the concert hall, California-based rock band Eagles of Death Metal was on stage when the audience began to notice something was not right.
“I turned round and I saw one of these attackers, he was very young, barely 20, with a small beard,” Julien Pearce, a reporter for Europe 1 radio who was in the theatre, said.
“At first we thought it was part of the show, pyrotechnics or whatever. But when I turned round and saw him with his assault rifle and saw flames coming from his barrel, I understood it was no joke.”
As the gunman paused to reload, Pearce managed to escape, sneak round the side of the stage and out through an exit. But witnesses described how others were not so lucky.
“People were falling like dominoes,” said a 22-year-old message-runner who gave his name as Toon. He had walked through the doors of the theatre just as three gunmen began shooting indiscriminately at those inside.
“One of the guys had a big hat. They were all dressed in black,” he said, adding that he turned on his heels and fled. Outside the venue, there was panic. Paris police chief Michel Cadot told local television the gunman had sprayed the terraces of several nearby cafes with bullets before entering the hall.
One witness saw a man racing down a street outside screaming "War's broken out!" A young Parisian said he and 60 others hid for an hour in the cellar of a bar on a street behind the theatre.
Emergency services were by now in full swing. Dozens of ambulances were racing to the Bataclan. Soldiers in camouflage fatigues were gathering on the nearby Bastille Square.
Shortly after midnight Paris time, a handful of loud bangs were heard coming from the theatre, not long after President Francois Hollande had issued a statement saying operations were under way to free those still in the theatre.
“The police assault was extremely difficult. The terrorists who locked themselves in one of the floor had explosives belts which they detonated, and the four were killed during the assault,” Mr. Cadot said. — Reuters