When elite French commandos stormed the Bataclan concert hall last Friday night, they found hundreds of people laying on the floor, blood everywhere — and an eerie silence.
Jeremy, captain of the commandos, revealed details of how the operation played out in an exclusive interview with NBC News' Lester Holt — on condition that his last name not be used.
Among the revelations:
- Commandos had to ignore the moans of the wounded to find the terrorists.
- The jihadis identified themselves as "soldiers of the caliphate."
- "Negotiations" with the shooters included "classic political demands" about French operations in Syria.
- The negotiations were an excuse to buy time to murder innocents.
"We discover like a hell on Earth," Jeremy said. "No sound. Nobody was screaming. Nobody were moving because they were afraid of the terrorists."
Uniformed police first to respond to the scene had managed to shoot dead one terrorist, but two more remained holed up in a second-floor room — with hostages.
Jeremy's unit — the BRI — systematically and carefully went room to room. That meant the commandos had to ignore the pleas of the dying and wounded — which was brutal, Jeremy said.
“We discover like a hell on Earth. No sound. Nobody was screaming. Nobody were moving because they were afraid of the terrorists.”'
"A lot of people ... ask us to help them because they were wounded, bleeding and we had to say no — we have to find first the terrorist," he told NBC News. "It was difficult for the guys, for the men on the team."
The two remaining terrorists referred to themselves as soldiers of the caliphate. They were upstairs on the left side of the concert hall and down a hallway, behind a small wooden door, Jeremy said. When the BRI approached, one shouted to get back.
"I try to speak with them and he told me that he wanted to negotiate," Jeremy said. "So I said OK, give me a phone number."
The phone number provided was radioed back to a police negotiator. Jeremy said that around five "very short" phone calls took place, during which "classic political" demands about French action in Syria were invoked.
"It was not really a negotiation," he added. "They want just to prepare themselves for the final assault. They don't want to negotiate anything."
The unit knew time was critical — there were a lot of hostages and the green light for a full assault was quickly given by command. The team took a moment to collect themselves and prepared to push through the door, stacking up behind a heavy bulletproof shield.
When the commandos pushed through the unlocked, wooden door, one of the terrorists immediately opened fire. More than 25 bullets from his AK-47 struck the shield, and one round injured a BRI commando, striking his hand and causing him to fall down.
"We cannot take care of him, we still go," Jeremy said of the difficult choice to push forward without helping the wounded commando. The unit had agreed before going in not to stop if anyone was injured.
"We can't afford pause," he explained. There were hostages.
Despite the barrage of bullets, the BRI did not fire because they saw around 20 hostages between them and the shooter, Jeremy explained.
“We hope it’s almost finished for now. I won’t say we are happy but maybe … it’s the end of something. Maybe.”'
"It was too risky ... for the hostages but we keep going," he added. They pushed on with the shield — and unsure footing. There were unexpected obstacles, like a set of stairs which caused a shield to tumble and leave some commandos exposed.
"They still go," Jeremy said, praising their bravery.
Finally, they were in line with the terrorists and it was "like a dead end" for the attackers, Jeremy said. One blew himself up and the second tried to do the same but was shot.
But the siege wasn't quite over yet. The BRI had to evacuate the hostages — some of whom were too scared to come out of their hiding places, said Jeremy, who would only use his first name for security reasons.
He told NBC News it was hard to know how many concertgoers they freed — there were at least 60 hiding on the roof and the concert hall's capacity was well over 1,000 — but thinks they managed to save a lot of lives.
The BRI unit has been to war before — they were involved in last January's Charlie Hebdo attacks — and the men have witnessed horrors. This operation though, Jeremy said, was "so intense" — bullets, explosions — and "very tough" for him and his men to endure.
"For now sleeping is quite difficult ... Falling asleep," he said. "All the memories of what's happened in the theater."
With France under a state of emergency, there's been little time to rest because the BRI have been on 24/7 alert.
That's why just four days after the Bataclan siege they deployed to the suburb of Saint-Denis before dawn.
The RAID team had called for support — a terror cell was holed up in an apartment and a gunfight was underway. The cell was heavily armed — explosive vests, grenades, guns — but after more than six hours the operation ended, with two terrorists dead and several other suspects in custody.
Jeremy and his men later learned that the operation had stopped the terror cell from carrying out another major attack — and killed the alleged mastermind of the Paris siege he and his men brought to an end.
"We hope it's almost finished for now," he told NBC News. "I won't say we are happy but maybe ... it's the end of something. Maybe."