Paris attacks: Police reports piece together night of terror

Jihadis co-ordinated in real time by unidentified person in Brussels on November 13th

How the events unfolded in one of the most violent terrorist attacks in Europe in the last twenty years. Video: Reuters


A more precise account of the November 13th Paris attacks that killed 130 people has emerged from 6,000 pages of reports drawn up by police investigators and recounted by Le Monde and Le Figaro newspapers.

One of the more chilling revelations is that the three teams dispatched by Islamic State to attack the Stade de France, cafes in eastern Paris and the Bataclan concert hall received instructions in real time via mobile phone from someone in Brussels.

The Brussels choreographer has not been identified. An estimated 250 jihadists have returned from Syria and are on the loose in France, prime minister Manuel Valls said on December 23rd.

Three cars used in the attacks left the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek in the early hours of November 12th. The cars, and two hideouts in the Paris region, were rented by French brothers Salah and Brahim Abdeslam.

Suicide belt

Brahim Abdeslam activated his suicide belt in the Comptoir Voltaire café. Video surveillance shows white smoke coming out of his back, followed by two flashes. Abdeslam lands on a table where two young men are seated, with a gaping hole in his back. The cafe is filled with smoke and feathers from Abdeslam’s anorak.

Ninety of the 130 people killed that night died in the Bataclan. Most concert-goers had thrown themselves to the floor when the shooting started. “Those who want to leave, get up and go,” a gunman shouted before opening fire on everyone who stood up. “They were having fun. It made them laugh,” a witness told police.

A graphic artist called Arnaud was the last of 12 hostages freed after two hours in an upstairs corridor at the Bataclan. The jihadis had ordered him to be a lookout. “If we realise you see things you don’t tell us, you’ll get a bullet in the head,” they threatened.

The gunmen sent another hostage as a messenger to police, saying, “If you don’t come back, we’ll kill your cousin.”

In negotiations conducted over a hostage’s mobile, they demanded a written commitment for an end to western intervention in Syria. Failing that, they threatened to execute hostages and throw them out the window.

‘Look of a madman’

When the French anti-terrorist squad burst into the corridor where the gunmen were holed up with their hostages, “everybody shit themselves, even the kidnappers”, Arnaud said. “I saw panic in Omar’s eyes, the look of a madman.”

Arnaud was caught between two gunmen. The first headed for an exit, then detonated his suicide belt. When the second jihadi raised his hand to do the same, Arnaud threw himself to the floor and curled into a ball. His eardrum was badly damaged by a police stun grenade. He saw a foot and part of a torso, and felt warm liquid on his back.

“I literally opened my eyes in the midst of guts and gunshot,” he told Le Monde. “But I said to myself, ‘Hell. You’re breathing.’”

While this happened, mobile phone records show, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged planner of the attacks, and a still unidentified gunman who had helped Abaaoud and the Abdeslam brothers kill 40 people on cafe terraces, returned to the scene and joined onlookers outside the Bataclan.

On surveillance videos, Abaaoud was identified by bright orange sneakers, which he was still wearing when he, his cousin Hasna Ait Boulahcen and the other gunman died in a police raid in Saint Denis five days later.

Abaaoud and his fellow jihadi slept for four nights in a thicket, described by police as a “vegetal igloo” near the A86 motorway. Ait Boulahcen, who had been in love with Abaaoud since she was a teenager, had received a money order from Brussels to buy the men new clothes and sublet the Saint Denis apartment.

Unidentified gunman

Investigators concluded that Abaaoud, Ait Boulahcen and the unidentified gunman died in the November 18th raid when the latter detonated a suicide belt. The 5,000 rounds fired by police did not touch them.

Salah Abdeslam remains the most wanted man in Europe. Mohamed Amri and Hamza Attou, the barman and drug dealer at the Abdeslams’ bar in Molenbeek, drove to Paris to fetch him the morning after the attacks. Incredibly, they transported Abdeslam unhindered through three highway checkpoints.

That same day, Abdeslam bought new clothes, changed in a market van, and went to a barber to have his head shaved. The Belgian minister of justice, Koen Geens, admitted in December that Abdeslam had been located in Molenbeek two days after the attacks. But Belgian law forbids searches between 9pm and 5am. When police raided the house the next morning, he was gone.

Despite multiple eyewitness reports that the killers appeared to be drugged, forensic work on 10 bodies found no trace of alcohol or captagon, the so-called “jihadi drug”.

Brahim Abdeslam’s blood showed tiny traces of cannabis, while Hasna Ait Boulahcen had consumed cocaine.

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