Coordinated terror attacks in Paris on Friday took the lives of more than 120 people and left hundreds wounded. The self-proclaimed Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the killings, and French president Francois Hollande has called the attack “an act of war.”
In the wake of the attack, Paris was locked down, and France declared a state of emergency.
Explosions and shootings occurred across the city: at the national stadium, at a crowded concert hall, at several cafes and restaurants. And for survivors and eyewitnesses at each site, it wasn’t immediately obvious that the carnage they saw was part of a larger terrorist attack.
Le Stade de France
Explosions nearby were audible from inside the stadium. Freelance reporter Ben Barnier was there, watching the soccer game between France and Germany, as he told NPR’s Audie Cornish:
“Early in the game we heard two explosions — two very loud explosions. Now if you’ve ever been to a large soccer game, it’s not unusual to hear fireworks, but this time around the two explosions were much louder than fireworks — and shortly after we heard police sirens, which indicated that something unusual might have happened indeed.”
But the game continued, he says. “It was bizarre … an exciting game, with goals and people watching, getting excited about the game — but checking at the same time their cell phones” for news about what the explosions were.
By the time the game was over, the extent of the attacks was beginning to become clear. The spectators weren’t allowed to leave the stadium, and many of those stranded people crowded onto the field, Barnier says.
Rue De La Fontaine Au Roi, 11th Arrondissement
Erin Allweiss spoke to Audie last night, while she was still stuck inside a restaurant just three doors down from La Casa Nostra, one of the attack sites:
“We were sitting at dinner and all of a sudden there was commotion … there were screams, and they locked the doors. And we thought that they were going to push through the doors and we heard gunshots that were clearly gunshots, and everyone went under the table, hiding.
“And afterwards it was quiet, and one of the photographers we were with … he went and he took some photographs, and we saw there were four to 10 people who were killed at the restaurant three doors down. …
“It wasn’t clear that this was part of a group of attacks. And so all of us turned to our phones very quickly, and we saw that there had been an attack on a stadium, and began to wonder if this was a bigger incident and not just isolated.”
La Belle Equipe, Rue de Charonne, 11th Arrondissement
Haxie Meyers-Belkin, a journalist with France 24, was on the scene at the Rue de Charonne immediately after the attacks, as she told NPR’s Scott Simon:
“We were 150 meters away, behind the police cordon. When we arrived it was really pandemonium. The streets were filled with the sounds of sirens, ambulances were rushing past. And we spoke to two eyewitnesses who themselves had tried to enter Le Belle Equipe to eat earlier in the evening. It’s known for its terrace — it’s very popular for people wanting to eat outside, it was quite a mild November evening. And these two people who I spoke to had tried to get a table, hadn’t managed because it was that full.
“So two hours after they tried to get in, they said they heard a rain of bullets and went outside into the streets to see really a scene of devastation. Bloodied bodies on the streets, tables, chairs strewn around. They then had to return to the restaurant they had been eating in and sought shelter under the tables.”
Le Petit Cambodge, Rue Bichat, 10th Arrondissement
Charlotte Brehaut was eating at Le Petit Cambodge when the attack at that restaurant began, she told ABC News.
“I was eating with a friend of mine, we were just having our dinner … and then all of a sudden there was really loud gunshots and bullets coming through the windows. So all the diners quickly fell to the floor and we were lying on the floor while numerous gunshots were fired and there were shards of glass coming through the windows. I saw a woman lying next to me — I was holding on to her, actually — and I said, are you OK, are you OK? … When I lifted my head, I could see … she was fatally wounded.”
The Bataclan concert hall was the bloodiest site of the night: dozens of people were taken hostage, and at least 80 were killed.
Paolo Bevilacqua was in a shop near the concert hall as the attack and hostage situation began to unfold, as he told NPR’s Audie Cornish.
“Suddenly I heard people screaming, and people are shouting in the street. … I get out of the shop and people were running in the street and screaming and crying.
“Actually, I didn’t understand what happened, you know? I was kind of surprised. And I live like one block from the Bataclan, and I came back home, and decided to watch TV, and suddenly I realized that it was an attack.
“There were plenty of cops around, plenty of firemen … and I heard some gunshots. … To hear some gunshots in Paris, it doesn’t happen every day.
Marc Coupris was one of the hostages inside the Bataclan. After he was freed, he told the Guardian the scene “looked like a battlefield”:
“There was blood everywhere, there were bodies everywhere. I was at the far side of the hall when shooting began,” he told the newspaper. “There seemed to be at least two gunmen. They shot from the balcony.
“Everyone scrabbled to the ground. I was on the ground with a man on top of me and another one beside me up against a wall. … I don’t know how long we stayed like that, it seemed like an eternity.
“I saw my final hour unfurl before me, I thought this was the end. I thought I’m finished, I’m finished,” he told the Guardian.
Victor Boyko, a Russian photographer working in Paris, also lives close to the concert hall and witnessed the aftermath. He was walking home when the night “started to become strange,” he told Scott Simon:
“The police were stopping at every café and forcing people inside the cafes. So the street looked pretty deserted while I was walking.”
Police attempted to deter Boyko from heading home, and his street was blocked by police with automatic rifles. When he finally got home, he found a lot of blood in his doorway, and a neighbor’s door hanging open.
“My neighbor, living on my floor, he saw it from the window, and he rushed down to help the wounded people, and he got shot in the arm,” Boyko said.
On Saturday morning, Boyko says, his neighborhood was “deserted.”
“The whole street is closed. There are only policemen,” he says. “A lot of bloodstains — no bodies any more on the street.”
Physician Patrick Palloux went straight to the hospital when he found out about the attacks. He was one of the first to treat victims of the attack — and he told NPR that he’d never seen anything like the hundreds of wounded pouring into Paris’ hospitals last night.
“It’s the images of war. Paris was attacked by weapons of war. The attacks by the Stade de France during the soccer game, one thinks that they were attacking the president,” he said.
He said the injuries he was treating looked like something from a battlefield.
“The types of injuries, similar to those during war, were mainly in the thorax, the abdomen, and the limbs. They were from the bullets and from the explosion too. They came with the bomb belts which emitted shrapnel, which injured most of the victims.”
Palloux, in addition to being a doctor, is a writer and activist. He wrote for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. And he was one of the first responders on the scene when Charli e Hebdo was attacked in January, providing first aid to his colleagues. Twelve died in that shooting.
But Palloux says he wasn’t thinking about that attack when he was treating the victims of Friday’s terrorism.
“I was very focused on my work and the necessity to save as many lives as possible,” he said. “So, I didn’t think about what happened at Charlie Hebdo during that moment.”