PARIS – In the midst of the bloodbath at a music hall in Paris, one of the gunmen laughed and played the xylophone left behind after the band had fled the stage, according to new accounts emerging six weeks after France’s deadliest terror attacks.
The three heavily armed jihadis who attacked the Bataclan on Nov. 13 also warned terrified concert-goers cowering on the floor that “anyone who moves will be killed” — and in some cases, they were true to their word.
The chilling accounts survivors told to investigators are the latest to emerge from the sprawling probe into the most deadly of the coordinated attacks on the French capital claimed by the Islamic State group.
Ninety people died at the Bataclan alone on a night when 130 would be killed in total.
It was 9:40 p.m. on that Friday when a black Volkswagen Polo with Belgian number plates drew up outside the venue. Three men got out, guns in hand and wearing suicide vests — Samy Amimour, Omar Mostefai and Foued Mohamed-Aggad.
Two minutes later, one of them sent a text message to a number in Belgium saying: “It’s started.”
Inside the hall, the concert was in full swing. As the Eagles of Death Metal launched into “Kiss the Devil,” explosions rang out. Bassist Matt McJunkins recalled seeing “flashes” pierce the darkness.
The music stopped abruptly and the band hastily left the stage as dozens of spectators fled to exits or climbed on to the roof of the building, while others desperately hid where they could.
On the floor of the concert hall, hundreds of people were lying down. The lights came on. One woman recalled seeing one of the gunmen — “He was smiling and shooting, quite calmly.”
“I felt the blood running on the floor,” 33-year-old Loic told AFP. “And I could feel the impact as people fell to the ground around me.”
In accent-less French, the gunmen referred to France’s airstrikes on the Islamic State group, shouting: “This is for our brothers in Syria and Iraq”.
“What you are experiencing, our wives and our children experience that every day.”
Some of the injured cried out and one woman begged the gunmen to stop shooting. One of them warned: “Anyone who moves will be killed.” Shots rang out. “I told you not to move,” the gunman said.
One witness told how the attackers then began toying with the concert-goers.
“Anyone who wants to leave should get up and go,” said one of the jihadis. The witness recalled: “They fired at anyone who got up.” The same scenario was played out several times.
“It made them laugh,” the witness told investigators.
Several witnesses described being “shot like rabbits.
“Some people couldn’t take it any more and were crying,” said Samuel, 42. “Others were telling people to be quiet because we feared it was our turn next.”
Small groups escaped as the gunmen paused to reload, while some said heartbreaking goodbyes. A wounded woman caressed the face of her dying partner before making her escape.
Two of the gunmen climbed on to the stage. “Someone shouted that they had left,” recalled a man identified only as Anthony. “I slipped in a very thick pool of blood, we were climbing over one another (to get out).”
In fact the attack had shifted to another part of the Bataclan. The assailants changed tactics, gathering together a group as hostages, who astonishingly all survived.
At 10:00 p.m., a policeman entered the building and fired at Samy Amimour, who had remained downstairs. His suicide vest blew up, sending parts of his body flying.
More shots were fired, then there was silence.
A new ordeal was beginning in a corridor upstairs where the blue-eyed Omar Mostefai asked if anyone had a lighter. When one was proffered, he held out a handful of banknotes and ordered the hostages to burn them.
Witnesses said by this point, the jihadis seemed disorganized, firing out of the window and demanding that hostages give them their mobile phones so they could call the media. The two men occasionally spoke in Arabic.
One hostage felt a bullet whistle past his ear because he was convulsing with a nervous tic. He was warned he would be killed next time.
At 10:15 p.m., the elite BRI police unit arrived at the scene. “It was like Dante’s inferno,” said one of its members.
As the police edged through the building, mobile phones rang in the pockets of the dead. Survivors were only allowed to leave once the police determined there were no gunmen hiding among them.
At 11:15 p.m., the police reached the door to the corridor and made contact by phone with the gunmen. One of them told the police to back up and demanded a negotiator while threatening to “decapitate” their hostages.
At 12:18 a.m., the final assault began. Crouched behind a rolling 180-kg (400-pound) barrier, the police pushed toward the gunmen under a hail of bullets.
Mohamed-Aggad blew himself up and Mostefai was shot dead.