They were animals, many of them say. A prey that had lost all track of time. The targets are no longer human, neither for their hunters nor for themselves.
For more than two weeks, survivors of the Bataclan concert hall in Paris testified in a specially equipped courtroom about the attacks by the Islamic State group of November 13, 2015, the deadliest in modern France. The testimony marks the first time many survivors have described – and learned – exactly what happened that night at the Bataclan, filling in the pieces of a puzzle that takes shape as they speak.
A total of 130 people died that night at the Bataclan, at the National Stadium of France and in the restaurants and bars of the district. Hundreds more have been injured body and soul, including 90 at the Bataclan, in the three-hour series of attacks.
All nine attackers are dead. The only survivor of the IS cell, who fled the city after his suicide vest malfunctioned, is among 14 men on trial.
On the night of November 13, the American rock band Eagles of Death Metal performed in front of a full house in the multi-storey concert hall in Paris. Clarisse, then 24, was in the locker room, getting ready to run out of beers. When filming started at the entrance at 9:47 p.m., there was only one place to go: Back inside, in the dance pit.
But the armed men followed closely behind.
“And I’m ready,” said Clarisse. “I expect to be shot in the back. And I think, is it going to hurt? Am I going to pass out? Die immediately? ”
Edith was at the bar near the steps leading down to the pit. She took a stairwell on an instinct which she describes as “something animal, almost reptilian”. She, like almost all of the other survivors, did not want her last name made public.
On the balcony, she dove under a folding chair. A giant man was lying next to her.
At first, the shots came in long bursts.
“Then one at a time it starts. A shout. A shot. A telephone rings. A shot. Someone is pleading. A shot. There is no way out, ”Edith tells the judges, her hands twisting as she removes the rings from her fingers and replaces them one at a time.
Thibault and his wife were near the stage, on the ground. He glanced behind him and saw one of the gunmen. “His face is uncovered and I understand that he is not going to run away,” he said. “And that’s when I understand I’m going to die.”
Her cold comfort: “At least I’m not going to leave an orphan.
To this day, about five minutes after the three gunmen broke into the Bataclan, the ground was drenched in blood. The armed men seemed to move away and people rushed towards the scene.
Clarisse was among dozens to take a back staircase as far as possible. They found themselves in a dead end room with a toilet in the corner. She stood on the toilet and smashed the ceiling, shattering a rumble of electrical wires and fiberglass.
Thibault and his wife, Anne-Laure, joined the crowd but lost sight of each other while running upstairs. The pipes broke and water began to flood the room. Still, person after person climbed on the toilet and then descended from the crawl space for someone below.
Anne-Laure did not. “I fled for a hiding place like an animal,” she testified. “I was so angry with myself about it afterwards.”
Dozens of wounded and dead still lay in the pit. Among them, Pierre-Sylvain and his partner. He felt a flash of lightning at the first burst of gunfire and knew he had been hit, just like her.
“The entire pit was covered with bodies, and you couldn’t tell the living from the dead. I was in a concert hall but what I had in front of me was a mass grave. He stepped over the bodies, over the bodies, to get out.
Pierre-Sylvain then realized that he had been shot in the face. The bullet came out under his eye.
The first two officers arrived at 9:56 p.m. armed only with handguns. One of them hit an assailant and his suicide jacket exploded.
“Pieces of flesh fell on me at the place of our executioner, and feathers, I imagine, from his jacket,” says Amandine, who was on the ground.
Edith, hidden under a balcony seat, was evacuated around 11:30 p.m. It was impossible not to do it.
“The sheer volume of all those bodies dancing two hours ago,” she said, trying in vain to stop the shaking of her hands.
Upstairs, the two remaining assailants rounded up 11 men and women in a narrow hallway. They ordered one of the hostages to sit with their backs to the door and describe the victims outside moaning in pain.
The gunmen entered into negotiations with the police using one of the hostage’s phones. Police then hammered in a massive 90 kilogram (200 pound) black Kalashnikov bulletproof shield, as large as the door itself. He wobbled on the steps and fell on a woman.
One of the attackers emptied his magazine and the other blew himself up on the back staircase. The whole building shook. Both attackers were dead; and the 11 hostages were alive. It was 12:18 am
One by one, the former captives were taken out through the pit below. As they walked through the bodies, David wondered in anguish “Did I collaborate?” Did I participate?
It took the police over an hour to find the survivors hiding in cupboards on the roof. Those in the ceiling were the last to come out.
The judge asks Clarisse if she realized that she had saved many lives that night.
“So I am told. But I really don’t realize it. For me, it was out of the question to die without doing everything to get out of it.
Thibault, who credits him for saving him, describes his return to his humanity as he left the building. But, he adds, “The feeling of guilt is extremely strong. Why did I survive when so many others did not? ”
Edith also says her testimony seems almost illegitimate for leaving the Bataclan alive and physically unharmed. But that night left her a shell of the woman she once was. Among the many tattoos that entwine his limbs, that of the Bataclan, on his left forearm.
“We are still trapped on November 13,” she said.