The assailants’ weapons were those of war: automatic rifles and suicide belts of explosives. The killing was indiscriminate, spread across a swath of the city, in at least six different sites. An ordinary Friday night in Paris transformed into a bloodbath. The word Parisians used over and over as they tried to make sense of the horror was “carnage.”
At the packed Bataclan concert hall in eastern Paris, the attackers opened fire on a crowd waiting to hear American rock band Eagles of Death Metal perform. One witness told France Info radio he heard them yell “Allahu Akbar” – God is great in Arabic – as they started their killing spree and took hostages. The city’s police chief, Michel Cadot, said the assailants also wore explosive belts, which they detonated.
About a mile (1.5 kilometers) from there, attackers sprayed gunfire at the Belle Equipe bar, busy as ever on a Friday night with patrons unwinding from their week. One witness, also speaking to French radio, said the dead and wounded dropped “like flies” and that “there was blood everywhere. You feel very alone in moments like that.”
The preliminary death toll there appeared to be 18 dead, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said. White sheets were laid over bodies.
To the north, loud explosions reverberated around the national stadium, packed with some 80,000 fans watching France beat Germany in a soccer exhibition match. One of the loud detonations in the chill air so startled French player Patrice Evra that he paused in mid-run, seemingly lost, and kicked away the ball.
A police union official, Gregory Goupil, said the two explosions were suicide attacks and a bombing that killed at least three people – near two of the entrances to the stadium and a McDonalds. The stadium was the first site targeted.
From there, the wave of killings quickly spread.
There were 14 dead on one street, five on another, Molins said. The spread of the killings added to the confusion and made a coherent picture slow to form. But the shock was instantaneous, as was the understanding that this was terror and killing on a scale unseen in Paris since World War II.
“The terrorists, the assassins, sprayed the outsides of several cafes with machine guns and went inside,” Cadot, the police chief, said. “So there were victims in terrible and atrocious states in numerous places.”
Pierre-Henri Lombard was dining in a restaurant in the trendy neighborhood when he heard sounds like the fireworks for France’s Bastille Day national holiday.
Then the panic began.
“Waiters went outside and said it was a shooting. We saw dozens of people rundown the street, a couple were bleeding,” he said.
As police, soldiers and the emergency services sprang into action, sirens wailing, helicopters whirring overhead, medical personnel started reporting for work of their own accord to help treat the injured. Five subway lines were shut down entirely, and Paris police told people to stay at home and avoid going out unless absolutely necessary.
At the Bataclan, police launched an assault to free hostages. Haggard-looking survivors were bused away.
At the stadium, fans streamed onto the pitch after the match, preferring the relative safety of inside of the stadium to the chaos outside. Police forensic officers dressed in white scoured the blast sites for evidence.
French President Francois Hollande was quickly evacuated from the stadium and soon after declared a state of emergency.
Greg Keller, Samuel Petrequin and Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report.