It is 10:30 p.m. when the Paris Research and Intervention Brigade arrives at the Bataclan. The capital was then hit by terrorist attacks of unprecedented scale in France. After the explosions at the Stade de France and the attack on terraces in the 10th and 11th arrondissements, elite BRI police officers are ordered to move towards the Bataclan.
“We arrive on foot towards the theater, and as we go, we see more and more victims on the ground,” said Jem, leader of the 1st column. 45 minutes earlier, three terrorists started shooting Kalashnikovs at the crowd gathered in the concert hall. One of the attackers, injured by a BAC policeman, then activated his explosive vest. The other two took refuge with several hostages, used as human shields.
We try to walk as best we can between the bodies. Alive or lifeless, we don’t even know.
“Already, between the entrance to the theater and the stage, there is a whole reception area which is littered with five or six corpses,” Jem continues. “Everything is devastated.” From a strategic point of view, the situation is complex. “The pit is surrounded by balconies, explains Christophe Molmy, former head of the BRI. If you walk right in the middle of the room, you can get shot from either side.”
“We try to walk as best we can between the bodies, recalls BRI operator Bill. Alive or dead, we don’t even know. We sometimes see limbs moving.” After 15 minutes of searches, the police located the terrorists at the balcony, on the left side of the pit. “We arrive at a door that we are about to open, Jem explains. When we put our hand on the handle, we hear someone speaking to us, through the door … Very quickly, they give us a cell phone number through the door for our negotiator. “
The negotiation phase then begins. “For them, France is responsible for the situation in Syria, so they are coming to take revenge on French territory,” recalls Nicolas, negotiator. Christophe Molmy clarified: “It is extremely difficult to argue, because they are only reciting a speech they have learned and obviously they have absolutely no desire to release the hostages.”
“There are already 90 people who have been shot in the Bataclan,” Nicolas continues. “Our attention is focused on the hostages. Our goal is to get everyone out and no one left dead.” Stéphane, deminer at the central laboratory of the Paris police headquarters, said: “We know that suicide bombers wear explosive vests, with a front plate and a back plate. With triggering by pressure button and triggering with an igniter. “
While the terrorists were entrenched with one of the hostages, five telephone conversations took place with the negotiator. In vain. The assault, in a narrow corridor about ten meters long, seems inevitable: while the negotiator exchanges, the operators have the BRI configure two assault columns, one on the left side of the pit, and the other on the right.
“Storming down a hallway is anything but a good idea, but there aren’t really any alternatives,” said Christophe Molmy. After the decision of the then police chief, Michel Cadot, the assault was made. “As I approach, I see that I can enter with my shield, recalls Bill, operator. I open the door completely. I immediately announce that a terrorist is at the end of the corridor on the right. There it is. a deluge of fire. “
“The response at first is complicated, because we knew there were hostages between them and us,” said Jo, another operator. During the exchange of fire, an officer, seriously wounded in the hand, falls. Bill remembers, “I feel the shield falling, I have to let go… I take my Glock, and at one point, I see the silhouette of the terrorist come back, threatening. And as soon as he appears, I shoot him. . “
“There you really feel a loud explosion,” Jem recalls. “You can see that one of the two blew himself up.” Blown away by the explosion, the second terrorist, injured, is thrown towards a staircase. While the BRI has already exfiltrated some of the hostages, the assault continues. “The second terrorist is on the ground. He’s looking for the detonator to do as much harm as possible,” Bill said. Bobby, another operator, said, “We can see straight away that the charge didn’t jump. So we have to neutralize him to preserve the hostages who are potentially down there.”
Next to the body of the second terrorist, a door opens onto a lodge. “We understand that there are at least fifteen people in this lodge, explains Jem. They refuse to open the door to us because they think we are the terrorists. They explain to us that there is still an hour, the terrorists pretended to be the GIGN by asking them to open the door. ” A long negotiation ensues: the police confirm their identity with a call to 17, and the door finally opens.
“For them, it was a shock… The path, there was no other choice, was to take them through the pit, deplores Jem. They discovered the scene in a very abrupt way. they were told not to look around, the first thing they did was look. For them, it was quite traumatic. ” The assault being over, the hostages – all unharmed – are taken care of by the emergency services.
While the attack on Bataclan left 90 dead and hundreds injured, no injuries or deaths were reported among the hostages during the police assault. According to the BRI, around 60 people have been released in total, and throughout the operation, since the brigade arrived there, between 400 and 600 people have been rescued. During the assault, the BRI fired only 11 times.
The night left its mark on the police. “After we go home, but we do not sleep, explains the negotiator, Nicolas. The rest is a bit complicated I think for everyone.” All of them have had stigmata. “What marks the most are these phones on the ground which kept ringing … Calls from relatives, which were never answered,” remembers the minesweeper Stéphane. “We kept in touch with the group of hostages in the corridor and some of the lodge, we see them again from time to time, underlines for his part Jem, the leader of the 1st column. It’s quite rich, these are times. that give meaning to the action. “
► The series of testimonies, collected by Laurence Barbry and Louise Simondet, can be found here.