Witnesses and survivors have described the scenes of horror and carnage as gunmen and suicide bombers killed at least 120 people in a wave of attacks across Paris on Friday night.
“As we went to our car we saw dozens of people running out of the Bataclan,” local resident Caterina Giardino, an Italian national, said of the 19th century theatre-turned-music venue where gunman clad in black systematically killed nearly 100.
“Many of them were covered with blood, people were screaming,” she added, sitting on a bench with a friend as she recalled how one young man emerged from the concert hall with the bloody imprint of a hand on his shirt.
The exact sequence of gun and bomb assaults on the concert hall, the Stade de France sports stadium and restaurants in the 10th and 11th arrondissements of the French capital is still unclear.
The first blast was heard at 9:17pm local time (20:17 GMT) outside the Stade de France, where France and Germany were playing a friendly soccer international in the presence of President François Hollande.
Authorities said three suicide bombers had blown themselves up outside the stadium, with at least two explosions distinctly heard by spectators.
No claim of responsibility has been made so far, but witnesses at the Bataclan music venue heard the killers shout Islamic slogans and condemn France’s role in the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria.
‘People were falling like dominoes’
Inside the hall, California-based rock band Eagles of Death Metal were on stage promoting their fourth album when the audience began to notice something was not right.
“I turned round and I saw one of these attackers, he was very young, barely 20, with a small beard,” Julien Pearce, a reporter for Europe 1 radio who was in the theatre said.
“At first we thought it was part of the show, pyrotechnics or whatever. But when I turned round and saw him with his assault rifle and saw flames coming from his barrel, I understood it was no joke,” he added.
As the gunman paused to reload, Pearce managed to sneak round the side of the stage and out through an exit. But witnesses described how others were not so lucky.
“People were falling like dominoes,” said a 22-year-old message-runner who gave his name as Toon. He had walked through the doors of the theatre just as three gunmen began shooting indiscriminately at those inside.
“One of the guys had a big hat. They were all dressed in black,” he said, adding that he turned on his heels and fled.
Other witnesses told French media how the attackers forced people to lie on the floor and then sprayed them with bullets, shooting at anyone who tried to flee.
One man, who works at the venue, told FRANCE 24 that he was able to save 10 people including himself by escorting them down a passage to a balcony.
The Bataclan staff member said that both assailants had been heavily armed and that “as people panicked, one assailant at this concert hall set up shop outside an emergency exit and began shooting those seeking to get out, and firing back into the concert hall itself”.
Outside the venue, there was panic. Paris police chief Michel Cadot told local television the gunman had sprayed the terraces of several nearby cafes with bullets before entering the hall.
One witness saw a man racing down a street outside screaming “War’s broken out!” A young Parisian said he and 60 others hid for an hour in the cellar of a bar on a street behind the theatre.
Shortly after midnight Paris time, a handful of loud bangs were heard coming from the theatre, not long after Hollande had issued a statement saying operations were under way to free those still in the theatre.
Three of the militants blew up their explosive vests as police stormed the venue, which lies just 200 metres (yards) from the former offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine that was targeted in a terrorist attack in January.
The fourth was hit by police fire and blew up as he fell.
“There was blood everywhere, corpses everywhere. We heard screaming. Everyone was trying to flee,” said Pierre Janaszak, a radio presenter who attended the concert and hid with several others at the venue.
Not far away, in an area of Paris usually crowded with revellers on a Friday night, there was more bloodshed as gunmen opened fire on several bars and restaurants.
Pierre Montfort lives close to the Petit Cambodge Cambodian restaurant and the Carillon bar on Rue Bichat, which both came under attack.
“We heard the sound of guns, 30-second bursts. It was endless. We thought it was fireworks,” he said.
Another witness described the scene: “For a moment, we could only see the flames from the gun. We were scared, how did we know he wasn’t going to shoot the windows?”
Florence said she arrived by scooter a minute or so after.
“It was surreal, everyone was on the ground. No one was moving inside the Petit Cambodge restaurant and everyone was on the ground in bar Carillon,” she said.
“It was very calm — people didn’t understand what was going on. A young girl was being carried in the arms of a young man. She seemed to be dead.”
On Rue Charonne, a little further east, fire engines drove past, their sirens wailing.
A man said he heard shots ring out, in sharp bursts, for two or three minutes.
“I saw several bloody bodies on the ground. I don’t know if they were dead,” he said.
“There was blood everywhere,” said another witness.
The Paris prosecutor’s office has said that eight attackers have been killed, seven of whom blew themselves up, but warned that “accomplices” may still be on the loose, while Hollande has declared a state of emergency and reinstated controls at France’s borders as the country goes into lockdown.