For Parisians, a Friday night out becomes a nightmare
PARIS — François Granier, a wine consultant and rock music fan, thought the Friday night concert he was attending had simply taken a particularly raucous turn.
Mai Hua, a fashion blogger and video director who was dining a few blocks away, figured the explosions she heard must be just another burst of gang violence.
Erin Allweiss, a publicist from New York who was eating at a restaurant in the same district, hoped the noise came from fireworks.
One by one on Friday evening, however, all the ordinary reflexes, expectations, and hopes of urban life fell away as tens of thousands of Parisians and visitors to their city confronted what President François Hollande would describe as a display of “absolute barbarity.”
The dull thuds and sharp cracks that so many thought, or at least hoped, were just the background noises of a night on the town in one of the world’s great, vibrant cities turned out to be the ghastly soundtrack of the worst terrorist assault on the French capital, even bloodier than the January attacks on a satirical newspaper and a kosher supermarket.
“This was not a targeted attack but a mass execution,” Granier, the wine expert, said of his evening at the Bataclan, a Paris concert hall that on Friday became a slaughterhouse in which 89 of his fellow rock fans were killed.
He had gone there to see the Eagles of Death Metal, a hard-driving band from California. He went alone because his girlfriend, who dislikes noisy music, spurned his offer of a date. The band had played about five songs when a series of loud bangs echoed around the 19th-century concert hall on Boulevard Voltaire in central Paris.
“I thought this was just part of the show,” Granier recalled. “There was so much noise and shouting you could not tell what was going on at first.”
But, along with many others out on Friday night to listen to music, watch soccer, or enjoy a meal, Granier had become both a spectator and a dangerously exposed actor in the distant battles of the Middle East.
The chilly Friday the 13th night that left at least 129 dead began at 9:20 p.m. with nearly simultaneous attacks at the Stade de France, the national sports stadium where France had just begun a soccer game against Germany, and, a few minutes later and four miles to the south, in a shabby-chic central city district studded with bars and restaurants.
The wave of attacks, carried out by what François Molins, the Paris prosecutor, described as three coordinated squads of terrorist commandos, spread panic across the French capital.
Unlike the slaughter in January at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket, Friday’s terrorists targeted random Parisians enjoying a night out.
Antoine Griezmann, a player for the French national team, was on the field at the Stade de France when a loud explosion shook the rafters, slicing through the cheers of French and German fans. Another blast followed 10 minutes later, then a third.
The two teams kept playing, with Griezmann and fellow players only learning after the game that three suicide bombers had walked into a brasserie and a McDonald’s outside the stadium and detonated explosive belts, killing themselves and at least one other person.
More worrying still for Griezmann, he also learned about the attack at Bataclan, the concert hall where his sister had gone to hear the Eagles of Death Metal. He frantically tried to find out if she was safe, finally discovering that she had escaped unscathed.
“May God take care of my sister and the rest of France,” he wrote on Twitter.
As the suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the stadium, which is in the suburb of St.-Denis, Betty Alves, 39, was ordering Chinese food with a friend in a restaurant in the 10th Arrondissement. Gunshots rang out.
“It was terrifying,” she recalled, “We saw everyone run down the street. We jumped on the floor and I hid under the table.”
The restaurant closed its metal shutters and everyone hid inside. When they reopened the shutters, Alves said she saw one young woman dead on the street and another man seriously injured. Her car, a Smart, parked on the corner of Rue Faubourg-du-Temple and Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi, was riddled with bullet holes.
The first victims in central Paris were 15 diners killed at Le Petit Cambodge, an Asian restaurant near a canal that runs through the once working-class and now fashionable 10th Arrondissement and at an adjacent restaurant, Bar Le Carillon. Gunmen, according to witnesses, sprayed the establishments with bullets from a black vehicle.
The next target, apparently by the same squad of terrorists in the same vehicle, the prosecutor said, was the Cafe Bonne Bière, a bar in the adjacent 11th Arrondissement. At least five people were killed there.
In just half an hour, gunmen raked at least four restaurants and cafes with gunfire in a fast-gentrifying area of Paris. At least 19 people died at La Belle Époque, a cafe with an outdoor seating area that got hit by sustained gunfire.
The violence reached its climax less than a mile away at the Bataclan, where three gunmen entered at 9:40 p.m., took more than 1,000 music fans hostage, and shot them indiscriminately before police regained control in a hail of gunfire and explosions shortly after midnight.
Ginnie Watson, a 35-year-old French-British actress, was at the concert and headed with her friends for a security exit she had noticed earlier on her way to the washroom.
“I’m still in shock. I don’t think I’ve actually realized what’s happened,” Watson said Saturday. “The stars were in my favor last night; I was really very lucky.”