PARIS — The band had been playing to the crowd at one of this city’s most popular music venues, the Bataclan, for about an hour. The 150-year-old music hall was sold out for the show by the American group Eagles of Death Metal. Suddenly, four men brandishing AK-47 assault rifles entered the hall. There were shouts of “Allahu akbar” just before the gunmen opened fire, and for about 20 minutes there was carnage.
Witnesses said the attackers also threw grenades into the crowd. “When they started shooting, we just saw flashes,” a witness named Gwen told French BFM-TV. “People got down on the ground right away. It was all dark.” In the scramble to survive, people climbed into the upper boxes of the hall, or cowered under seats. The musicians quickly fled the stage.
“It was a scene of carnage,” Julien Pearce, a radio reporter who was inside the Bataclan, told Europe 1 radio.The music hall can seat up to 1,500 people, but it was unclear how many were inside when the attack began. Some of the spectators managed to escape out back exits, but for minutes the gunmen shot unimpeded.
Benjamin Cazenoves posted an update on Facebook from inside the theater: “Alive. Just some cuts. Carnage. Bodies everywhere.” Mr. Pearce told CNN that he saw two of the men enter and begin to fire randomly. He said the gunmen wore black and said nothing. They simply fired indiscriminately into the crowd. Mr. Pearce said that when he walked out into the street, he saw 25 bodies on the ground.
“It lasted for 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 horrific minutes when everybody was on the floor covering their heads and we heard so many gunshots, and the terrorists were very calm, very determined, and they reloaded three or four times their weapons,” Mr. Pearce said.
At around 10 p.m. the gunmen began rounding up survivors, holding them as hostages as dozens of police officers massed outside. For more than two hours a tense standoff prevailed, with more and more police arriving at the scene, enlarging the tense perimeter around the music hall in the city’s 11th Arrondissement.
“I saw these two crazy guys arrive — they started firing on everybody,” a witness named Yasmine told BFM television. She heard one of the men shout, “ ‘What you are doing in Syria, you are going to pay for it now.’ ” Yasmine began to cry as she recounted what she had seen. “I’ve never seen so many dead around me.” She was shot in the foot.
With dozens trapped inside and the police massing for an assault, President François Hollande went on television to declare a state of emergency, his voice trembling. All throughout central Paris sirens blared. At about 12:15 a.m. the police began their assault on the Bataclan. There were a few quick rounds of gunfire, several explosions, and then it was over.
Three of the attackers blew themselves up, according to French television, and one was shot dead by the police. After the assault, television images showed hostages streaming out of the hall, some with their hands on their heads. Elsewhere, away from the venue, plastic sheeting covered bodies of some of the victims. The streets were thick with police and fire vehicles.
“The police are uncovering a scene of horror and apocalypse inside this music hall,” a journalist said on French television. The authorities said more than 100 were dead. Buses streamed from the scene bearing survivors, some wrapped in towels, to be taken to Police Headquarters in the center of the city and interviewed.
Nearby, the public prosecutor for Paris, François Molins, told reporters — speaking of all the attacks on Friday — that “there is a risk that the death toll might reach or even exceed 120 dead.” Sirens continued to blare throughout the night, but the streets were otherwise deserted.