For the nearly 1,500 people who flocked to see the Eagles of Death Metal at the Bataclan theater in Paris, Friday night began with excitement.
“Who’s going to have a fabulous evening?” a woman asked in a tweet, as she posed for a selfie outside the famous concert venue at the heart of the 11th arrondissement, one of the trendiest districts of the French capital.
The band, a California outfit that despite its name does not play death metal, took the stage around 9 p.m. For less than an hour, everything proceeded as planned.
Then, a group of gunmen who police said were armed with assault rifles and wearing explosives stormed the concert hall and shot into the crowd.
“I was in the mosh pit when I suddenly heard a series of bangs, like firecrackers,” Fahmi, a 23-year-old Turkish tourist who asked to be identified only by his first name, told Liberation. “At first, I thought it was part of the show — but then I looked up and saw that a woman had been shot in the eye. She stood up and then collapsed.”
"The killers arrived about half an hour after the start of the concert, through the main entrance," Nicolas, Thomas, and Gregoire, three friends who asked to be identified only by their first names, told Liberation. "They killed everyone who was at the bar, and then headed toward the mosh pit. It was like a gust of wind in a wheat field. Everyone dropped to the ground."
The concertgoers could not have known, but groups of suspected terrorists were launching seemingly coordinated attacks across Paris. Gunmen detonated explosions outside the Stade de France, shot into a crowded Cambodian restaurant, and shot several people in the streets around the Place de la République.
François Molins, the head prosecutor for Paris, said around 2 a.m. local time that at least 120 people had died in the attacks, with the death toll expected to raise. Dozens of the victims appear to have been killed at Le Bataclan, according to Le Monde.
The band and some concertgoers were able to escape the theater when the attack began, but many others — at least 100, according to multiple outlets — were taken hostage.
"Two of us ended up on the roof," the three friends told Liberation. "The other one hid in a closet, where he waited for the cops. We waited a total of two hours on the roof. There must have been 50 of us. We were trapped, like rats."
Whether the gunmen said anything to the hostages remains unclear. Julien Pierce, a reporter for Europe 1 who was at the theater, told the BBC that the the shooters “said nothing.” But Pierre Janaszak, a 35-year-old TV host, said the gunmen made political statements.
"I clearly heard them say to the hostages, 'It's Hollande's fault, it's your president's fault, he shouldn't have intervened in Syria,'” Janaszak told Agence France-Presse. “They also talked about Iraq."
Elite units from the French police formed a perimeter around the venue, and a tense, two-hour standoff ensued. During that time, the gunmen appear to have continued to kill hostages — witnesses told the BBC, AFP, and other outlets that gunshots could be periodically heard inside the concert hall.
Around 12:50 a.m., the police stormed the theater, freeing the hostages. None of the band members were injured, their agent said. Four gunmen died in the assault, some of them after detonating explosives.
Late at night, French President François Hollande visited the Bataclan after the police took control of the venue.
“We will wage war and we will show no mercy,” he told reporters at the scene.