It was a fun Friday night when hundreds of fans were enjoying the bustling atmosphere of a heavy metal rock concert. In seconds, three terrorists turned the concert hall into a bloobath.
The full terrifying details of the battle for the Bataclan hall emerged yesterday (Tuesday) as French police responded to questions about whether they could have ended the siege sooner, and perhaps saved more lives.
The first officer arrived on the scene at 10pm and shot one of the three Isil terrorists. But rather than seizing the initiative, police appear to have retreated, and even when elite anti-terrorist officers arrived 15 minutes later, it took more than two more hours to find and kill the two other murderers.
The pair had been holding 20 hostages in a first-floor corrider. They spoke to police negotiators five times on a mobile phone before officers stormed their hideout. The terrorists had threatened to behead hostages and throw corpses out of the windows every five minutes if the police did not retreat.
Around an hour into an Eagles of Death Metal gig, Omar Ismail Mostefai, Samy Amimour and a third Isil terrorist burst in through the main entrance and shot security staff in the lobby. Standing on a mezzanine level in front of the bar, they began spraying bullets into the audience standing in front of the stage, killing dozens of people.
In the confusion of the first few moments of the attack, the band managed to flee to the wings while concert-goers tried to escape through fire exits onto the street. Others hid in side-rooms, cupboards, false ceilings or on the roof, while two people, including a pregnant woman, climbed out of upstairs windows and dangled from windowsills to stay out of sight.
"This is war. And it is just the beginning," one gunman shouted. "We will kill the innocent!" Two of the terrorists moved up to the first floor balcony, while the third stayed on the ground floor. They slaughtered at random, shooting from windows and doors at people trying to escape.
The first policeman to arrive on the scene, an officer from the anti-crime branch, bravely made his way into the building where he shot one of the terrorists, who was killed when his suicide vest exploded.
Upstairs, dozens of other concert-goers were either in hiding or in sight of the terrorists, but many of them would have to wait almost two and a half hours longer for their ordeal to end. "Do you hear their cries, their suffering?" one terrorist asked. "It's to make you feel the fear that the people in Syria feel every day."
Elite anti-terrorist police arrived at the theatre to find darkness and silence broken only by the sound of mobile phones ringing unanswered in the pockets of the dead and the survivors pretending to be dead.
"When we went in, it was really dark. There were dozens of bodies lying on top of each other on the ground, the dead, the injured, the survivors who were pretending to be dead," a policeman, identified only as Jean, told the TF1 television channel. "It was like Dante's Inferno," another officer told Le Monde. The smell was unbearable, the silence appalling, he said.
Most of the officers were veterans of the assault on the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket in January, where Isil adherent Amedy Coulibaly killed four hostages before he was shot dead.
They gradually cleared the ground floor, helping survivors to safety as they did so.
Unsure whether the terrorists had fled the building, the officers went up two staircases to the balcony, stepping over bodies and bullet casings, while survivors emerged from their hiding places to flee to safety. "They came out like zombies. They were in a terrible state and could hardly walk," said Jean. A medical emergency chain was established at the foot of the stairs in anticipation of a bloody end to the siege.
Having checked the upper floor, the police came to one last door, behind which they thought the remaining bombers were holed up. A voice came from the other side of the door - a hostage who had been sent as an intermediary. "He shouted out that the terrorists were there and that if we opened the door they would blow everything up," said Jean.
Behind the door, the terrorists were taunting their 20 hostages. One of them, Sebastien, who has since emerged as a hero after pulling the pregnant woman hanging from the windowsill to safety, said: "They asked us if we agreed with them. I'll let you imagine the lingering silence. The most timid nodded their heads and the most daring said 'Yes.'
"They asked us to yell at the police to stay back and that if not they would blow up their explosive vests."
The terrorists agreed to give the police a mobile phone number. A specialist negotiator, who had also spoken to Coulibaly during the Hyper Cacher siege, asked for their demands.
"They said get out or we will shoot and we will decapitate the hostages," said Jean. They also said they would throw a body out of a window every five minutes. Over the next 50 minutes four more calls were exchanged, but the negotiations led nowhere.
Sebastien said the bombers asked him if he had a lighter and whether he thought money was important. He said 'No', assuming it would be the answer they wanted. "They took out a wad of 50-euro bills and I had to burn them," he added. "The other hostages thanked me for not trying to be a hero. The real heroes are dead, they died protecting others."
With no progress in the negotiations, the Paris police chief ordered officers to storm the 30ft corridor. After bursting open the door, the police threw in half a dozen stun and smoke grenades, then advanced in pairs behind a thick metal shield on wheels. "As soon as the door was open the terrorists opened fire... the shield alone took about 30 bullets from their Kalashnikovs. The hostages were screaming, throwing themselves on the ground, hugging the walls," said Jean. "Each time officers got past a hostage, the rest of the team would pull them out of there."
After all the hostages were evacuated - miraculously, no-one was injured -the police officers reached the end of the corridor and fired on the killers with HKG36 assault rifles. One attacker went down, and then the other detonated his suicide vest, killing them both.
The assault lasted three minutes.