Thursday 17 October 2019

Paris Terror Attacks: Witnesses tell of the men who came to kill everyone

‘It was so silent. Nobody was moving or crying. People were lying in their blood’

NIGHT OF FEAR: Rescue service personnel work near the covered bodies outside Le Carillon where 14 people were murdered
NIGHT OF FEAR: Rescue service personnel work near the covered bodies outside Le Carillon where 14 people were murdered

Luke Harding

It was 9.15pm when Adrian Suec and his girlfriend were sitting down to dinner in the Rue de Charonne. They had spotted a red-fronted cafe, La Belle Equipe, but decided to eat in the restaurant next door. Fifteen minutes later, they heard shooting outside — a rattle of automatic fire.

There was a pause. Then shots again.

Suec, a tourist from Slovakia, sank to his knees and climbed under the table.

“I felt a little foolish,” he said. After three minutes, he ventured gingerly out into the street in Paris’s 10th arrondissement, packed minutes earlier with diners, revellers and friends enjoying an end-of-week beer. “I ran inside the Belle Equipe. It was silent. Nobody was moving or crying. People were lying in their blood,” he said.

He saw 10 bodies. All were lying on the floor, with the exception of one man slumped forward on a table, his face covered in blood. There was no sign of life. “After a minute or so other people came out, crying and screaming,” Suec told the Observer. The killers, it appeared, were methodical.

“They must have reloaded. I saw cartridges on the pavement. They came from automatic weapons and pistols,’ said Suec. “It’s beyond words. We were there 15 minutes before.”

The gunmen who fired on La Belle Equipe, which means “the beautiful team”, killed 19. The attack was one of six terrorist incidents on Friday night, a murderous 40-minute spree that swept like a hurricane along a verdant spine of north-central Paris and the Canal Saint Martin, devouring those in its path. Its victims were out enjoying the pleasures of ordinary life: a meal, a chat, a drink.

By the time it was over at least 128 people were dead. It was the worst violence to hit France since the second world war — a stunning act of organised multitudinous terror. It was apparently carried out by French, Egyptian and Syrian nationals, acting from apocalyptic fervour and in the name of Islamic State.

Yesterday the drama continued, as police hunted for other suspects.

The killers began on Friday at 9.20pm with a series of explosions at the Stade de France, where France and Germany were playing a friendly, watched by President Francois Hollande.

Five minutes later they struck in the 11th arrondissement, opening fire on pavement drinkers who were clumped around Le Carillon, a maroon-painted bar at 18 Rue Alibert.

Yesterday morning an archipelago of blood lay in the street outside. Police had tried to cover it with sawdust. Three bullet holes had punctured the bistro’s windows, the line of fire clinically directed at the heads of seated customers. A sign read: “Happy hour 6-8pm.” Local people had placed flowers and candles at the entrance.

“This is a war on happiness. People were just outside, living their lives, not thinking about anything,” said Benjamin Romain, a regular drinker at the bar. He had been in the Stade de France with his brother and 12-year-old nephew. Romain heard the explosions, three of them, and initially assumed they were firecrackers.

He and the other spectators then filed out of the stadium, their hands above their heads, in front of twitchy cops armed with guns. There was no information; he and thousands of others were glued to cellphones for news.

That’s how he found that Le Carillon, his favourite bar-hotel, had been caught up in the carnage.

In a city as multicultural as Paris, it was inevitable that some of those targeted would be Muslims. The bar’s owner, Romain said, is Amokrane Coco, a gregarious Algerian who had lived in the city for 40 years. He survived.

But 14 of his customers were gunned down, mostly young people in an area known for its hipster clientele.

What did he think of the killers? “They are not Muslims. They are terrorists. The kids I grew up with weren’t like that.”

Romain said he’d come from Paris’s gritty northern suburbs, home to a predominantly immigrant population. He had arrived at the bar bearing a small olive tree. “It’s a symbol of hope, of peace,” he said.

Other locals stood outside, still struggling to comprehend what had happened on their doorstep. “We had this sort of thing in Algeria, during the civil war of 1988-1998,” Ahcene Yahmi, another Algerian bar owner and friend of Coco’s, said. Yahmi, 57, added: “The mountains of Algeria now seem safer than the streets of Paris.”

From the jihadis’ perspective, Friday’s horror had a terrible logic. Paris’s 10th and 11th arrondissements are full on Fridays, and home also to the Bataclan, a pagoda-like theatre painted in vivid yellows, reds and citruses, which looms over the Boulevard Voltaire like an eccentric aunt.

On Friday night it was playing host to a US rock group, Eagles of Death Metal.

Four gunmen burst inside. They took hundreds hostage. French special forces had to swiftly decide whether to storm the building. The decision came quickly. There were reports it was made for them after appeals from terrified people trapped inside. Benjamin Cazenoves’s desperate appeal was chilling. “I’m still at the Bataclan. Ist floor. Hurt bad! I hope they come and rescue us quickly. There are survivors inside. They’re killing everyone. One by one. Ist floor soon!!!!,”he wrote. Soon after he posted:

“Alive. Just cuts ... carnage. Dead bodies everywhere.”

On the ground floor, Benjamin and Celia recounted their horror at finding bodies falling on them. “We arrived at the Bataclan around 20.30 and the concert started around 21.00. We were near the entrance by the bar and standing. The place was full to bursting,” they told Le Figaro.

“We thought it was firecrackers at first, but when the sound of explosions came closer we understood. We threw ourselves on the ground straight away.”

Benjamin continued: “I saw Celia but I couldn’t see her face. A body fell on me. He bled all over my legs. A woman near me had her face covered in blood but was alive. My neighbour, a man of around 50, was shot at directly in the head, and bits of his brain and flesh fell on my glasses.”

Celia says she clearly saw the gunmen. “I believe there were four of them.

Their faces were not covered, they were young, in their 20s. One of them said: ‘The first person who moves their ass, I’ll kill.’ I had my phone on because I had just filmed a bit of the concert, but I didn’t get it out. It was a good job, too. Those who took out their phones were immediately killed.”


© Observer

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