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Friday 28 October 2016

A cool, ruthless, coordinated plan: to attack, to kill, and then be killed

We cannot hope to understand the viciousness and inhumanity at the heart of the terrrorists' plan. Their cell split into three groups to murder innocent people, and their unholy trinity left 129 dead, write Edward Malnick and Lexi Finnigan

Published 15/11/2015 | 02:30

The barbarous attacks had, according to the terrorist group behind them, been directed at Paris as "the capital of abominations and perversions".

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Militants from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -Isil - "meticulously selected" their targets, focusing on a stadium with tens of thousands of football fans and a series of venues in one of the most vibrant areas of the city.

The calm, coordinated way in which terror was ruthlessly wreaked on the city stood in marked contrast to the warm atmosphere that permeated the stadium, restaurants, bars and concert venue on Friday night.

The first attacks were launched virtually simultaneously, at just after 9.20pm local time, four miles apart.

First, two explosions close to the Stade de France were heard 10 minutes apart inside the stadium, where France were playing Germany in an international friendly.

For the millions watching on television or in the stadium, they might have sounded like part of the melee inside the arena.

But the blasts appear to have formed part of a series of seemingly coordinated terror attacks in Paris, carried out by at least seven militants.

The first explosion, a suicide bombing, was at an entrance to the stadium.

Last night a guard identified as Zouheir (his first name) told a newspaper that an explosive vest was found on the attacker as he was frisked trying to enter with a ticket.

While trying to back away from security officers the militant detonated his vest, the guard said. A second terrorist is believed to have blown himself up around three minutes later.

The explosions came as a large crowd, including French president Francois Hollande, were enjoying the first half of the international friendly.

In the event, the effect of the blasts at the stadium was limited, apparently killing one person in addition to the suicide bombers. But as chaos began to unfold outside the stadium, Mr Hollande was quickly evacuated by his security team as the match continued.

Meanwhile, a team of gunmen are believed to have arrived by car at the Right Bank area of central Paris. At around the same time as militants detonated explosives around four miles away at the Stade de France, the gunmen opened fire on the Petit Cambodge Cambodian restaurant in Rue Bichat, and the Le Carillon bar on the other side of the road.

With devastating coolness they gunned down diners and revellers at the two venues, killing 15 and sending a shockwave of terror through an area being enjoyed by many on their Friday night out. A number of doctors from the nearby Hopital Lariboisiere were said to have been drinking at Le Carillon after their shifts.

"These are places and streets that burst with life on a Friday evening," said Manu Saadia, a writer from Paris. "It is where young and hip Parisians gather to drink and socialise.

"These are ordinary neighbourhood joints where you meet your buddies for a quick demi of watery French beer or a snack before going out somewhere else," Mr Saadia said of the bar and restaurant.

The terrorists' next target would also fit this description.

According to a policeman at the scene yesterday, they then returned to their vehicle, said to be a black car with Belgian numberplates, and drove around 500 yards to the Casa Nostra pizzeria in Rue de la Fontaine au Roi. A young woman told Le Monde she spotted a "very young" man - 18 to 20 years old - in the front seat.

Less than 10 minutes after their assault on nearby Rue Bichat they opened fire on diners on the terrace of the restaurant, shooting 20 and killing at least five.

The scene can only be described as one of horror. One witness, Mathieu, 35, said: "There was blood everywhere. I was very lucky".

But Phillipe, an elderly man who saw the attack from his flat window, said "What was so chilling was that once the terrorists got back into their car after gunning those people down, they drove away very slowly, very calmly."

From there, according to the policeman, the militants drove around a mile south-east - apparently past the area of the Bataclan concert venue - to then launch another attack, this time on La Belle Equipe bar in Rue de Charonne.

At least 19 people died after the terrace was sprayed with bullets at around 9.35pm.

David Hadjadje, 31, a tour leader who lives nearby, said he saw people "panicked, shocked" in the street. "Some of the people were drunk - it was after all a Friday night - and they didn't understand what was going on. I said: 'Get out of here, get inside'."

Little more than a mile from the restaurants the US rock group Eagles of Death Metal were playing to a full house of 1,500 people at the Bataclan in Boulevard Voltaire. This would be gunmen's next target.

In its statement released yesterday Isil described the music fans at the Bataclan as "idolators at a festival of perversity". Most were young Parisians in their 20s and 30s.

At around 9.50pm, an hour after the band took to the stage, black-clad gunmen wielding AK-47s and wearing suicide vests stormed into the hall and fired calmly and methodically at hundreds of screaming concert-goers.

They began a siege that would last around two-and-a-half hours. Three of the militants blew up their explosive belts as heavily armed anti-terror police ended the siege at around 12.30am. A fourth was shot by officers.

At first, many who heard the sound of shots thought it was part of the act.

"But we quickly understood," said Pierre Janaszak, another radio presenter. "They were just firing into the crowd."

Within minutes the concert hall would become "a bloodbath", according to one witness. A video filmed by a French newspaper journalist on a mobile phone shows terrified concert-goers fleeing the venue, raacing wildly away as the sound of gunshots is heard.

Mr Janaszak said he heard an attacker in the Bataclan say: "It's the fault of Hollande, it's the fault of your president, he should not have intervened in Syria."

The gunmen shot their victims in the back, killing some at point-blank range before reloading their guns and firing again, a witness said, after escaping into the street by a stage door. Last night the death toll at the venue had reached 89.

An eighth attacker exploded his suicide vest at a restaurant in the Boulevard Voltaire, up the road from the Bataclan, at around 9.45pm.

Another person was seriously injured in the explosion.

Meanwhile, at around 9.50pm a third blast took place near the Stade de France, this time by a McDonald's restaurant on the fringes of the stadium.

The boom caused terror among spectators who had already been attempting to flee the stadium following the first two explosions. The match had continued, with many attributing the initial noises to fireworks, but word soon spread of what had taken place outside the stadium, as people read updates on their mobile phones.

David Haddad, a 24-year-old accountant who was at the stadium, said: "We got a notification which said Francois Hollande was evacuated because of bombs in the stadium.

"We started to run out. And we saw a lot of policemen with guns. I had never seen that before. When I tried to go outside I heard a third boom a bit farther away. Later I realised it was the restaurant.

"We ran for one kilometre until we caught a taxi. It was only when we were in the taxi and we asked the driver to put the radio on that we realised what was happening."

By last night French officials had put the death toll at 129 people from the combined attacks, with scores more injured.

For Parisians part of the terror was the deliberate, indiscriminate targeting of, as one 27-year-old put it, "innocent people going about their lives".

Quentin, who works for an online company in Paris, heard on Saturday how his oldest friend was shot multiple times at the Bataclan on Friday night. He said: "It's so shocking. When Charlie Hebdo happened, it was a specific, targeted attack. But this time it's terrifying because it is just random, innocent people going about their lives. Young people out drinking and socialising - and hurting no one."

Chloe Walford, 23, from Britain, who is in Paris working for an online travel company, was at a friend's house when the attacks took place.

She said: "All my friends are terrified to come out of their houses. The country is in a state of high alert. Someone I work with, his friend took a bullet and is in the hospital at the moment."

Last night, however, there was also an air of defiance in the area devastated by militants the previous evening.

Near to the scene of the Casa Nostra attack is the trendy Paname Restaurant, which is usually bustling with young workers in creative industries.

Karim Kachour, the Muslim owner of the restaurant, heard gun shots at around 9.30pm. He said: "I saw five dead bodies on the terrace. It was awful - a terrible situation.

Mr Karim added, however, that the Paname opened the next morning. "We won't let them stop us from carrying on with our lives," he said.


Sunday Independent

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