Liberating Le Bataclan: Through the eyes of the commandos

Emma Canavan

There were hundreds of bodies lying motionless on the floor, “tons of blood everywhere,” and silence.

This was the scene that met the elite French police unit, the BRI, at Le Bataclan, one of six sites targeted in the Paris attacks last Friday.

Details of the harrowing events that unfolded as the BRI tried to secure the theater have emerged in two revealing interviews with senior figures in the unit.

Christophe Molmy, the head of the French elite police unit, the BRI, details the traumatic events at Le Bataclan.

“It was a scene of absolute horror,” said Christophe Molmy, the head of the BRI, in an interview with the French station i-Tele TV.

“It will live with my men forever,” he said.

The captain of the unit, speaking to NBC News and referred to only as Jeremy, further detailed the difficulties the BRI faced on entering the theater - on how they had to ignore the pleas of the injured as they tried to locate the attackers.

The scene in Le Bataclan after the horrific terror attacks that killed 89 people.

"We discover like a hell on earth," said Jeremy.

"No sound. Nobody was screaming. Nobody were moving because they were afraid of the terrorists."

A lot of people asked for help “because they were wounded, bleeding and we had to say no, we have to find first the terrorist," he said.

Those who survived the attacks have recounted what happened in the half hour before BRI arrived, when the raucous fun of a concert by Californian band, Eagles of Death Metal, was broken by gunfire.

Three attackers proceeded to shoot people at random.

There was pandemonium as hundred of innocent people tried to escape and those who could not, tried to hide or play dead.

A total of 89 people were murdered in Le Bataclan.

The shooting began at 9.45pm. The BRI was alerted by media reports and arrived at 10.15pm.

By that time, uniformed police had already killed one of the attackers but, unknown to them, two more terrorists had taken twenty hostages upstairs.

Christophe Molmy described the two hours that followed, in which his men moved slowly through the silent building, first encountering the bodies of those who had been shot, lying in the orchestra pit.

The surviving concert-goers lay alongside the dead, motionless and terrified.

The BRI picked through them, checking one by one to see if a person was a victim or a terrorist.

About 15 minutes later they went upstairs, moving room by room through the historic venue, a slow process in which they had to form a column, stick their heads in and clear a room before moving to the next.

It was an “abominable” process, said Molmy, with the unit having to walk over dead bodies as they proceeded.

"We went from cupboard to cupboard, into the toilets; all of that takes an enormous amount of time. It was extremely tense."

Then, at 11.15pm, they came to a closed door. The unit was told by a hostage, forced by the attackers to be a spokesperson, to stop, that there were 20 people being held inside who would be killed if the BRI advanced.

“Negotiations” were established in which five short mobile phone calls were exchanged with the attackers.

"It was not really a negotiation," said Jeremy. "They want just to prepare themselves for the final assault. They don't want to negotiate anything."

Molmy points out that this situation is where the unit now has extreme difficulty.

“We face very different terrorists from what we’ve known. Now, we have extremely determined terrorists who want to commit mass murder. Who kill, who then retreat, entrench themselves, and who want to die as martyrs. They’re not seeking negotiations.

“We get the same declarations, ‘You attacked the Islamic State, we’re at war and we’re responding to your attacks,’" he said.

At 11.45pm, the BRI was given the go ahead to move forward with an assault.

This Molmy said, was “certainly one of the worst scenarios”, a “war operation”, with hostages lying between his unit and the attackers.

The BRI advanced using an 80-kilogram shield. It was hit with 27 bullets. Photo: AFP

With a medical team waiting in the stairwell, the BRI advanced behind an 80-kilogram shield shortly after midnight.

The shield was hit by 27 bullets but no hostages were injured, which was an “extraordinary” outcome, said Molmy.

When they reached the two men, the BRI opened fire on them. They were wearing suicide bomb vests and blew up after being hit several times.

It was not clear if the explosions were triggered by the bullets or if the attackers had blown themselves up.

"If all of a sudden they’d raised their hands and stopped, we would have arrested them,” said Molmy.

“But we were facing people who had fired, who had reloaded."