Just before the first of the roadblocks were maneuvered into position, a blue Citroen van pulled over to the pavement on the Avenue Gustav Eiffel, close to the main visitor entrance of Europe’s most iconic structure. The vehicle occupants cared little about parking restrictions or about the curious looks caused by the squealing of their tyres on the dry road surface. Four men alighted casually onto the pavement, each pointing Israeli-made Uzi sub-machine guns in the air, and each fired a sustained burst into the clear Paris sky.
A crowd of more than one hundred people was milling around the tarmacked forecourt, heavily shadowed by a light sun that failed to break through the Tower’s latticed framework. Men, women and children taking their turn to queue for the turnstiles or to visit the wooden gift shop sitting to the right of the entrance doors, were oblivious to everything, save for the expectation of sampling a once-in-a-lifetime viewing experience from more than a thousand feet in the air.
At first no-one seemed to react to the noise of the gunfire, but seconds later there was pandemonium. Played in real time it looked like everyone broke away at the same split second, screaming and stumbling into each other in a mad panic to escape what they could only initially register as something that shouldn’t be happening.
Played in slow motion, a middle-aged woman was the first to recognise the danger confronting the crowd, and it was her hysterical screams that galvanised the rest into action, many still trying to understand why they were suddenly very, very frightened.
The four gunmen advanced in a line across the forecourt, their weapons slowly brought back to the horizontal and pointing directly at the mass of bodies scurrying for safety in all directions. The gunman to the left of the group opened fire again, his weapon pointed at a security guard rushing forward to see what was happening, and armed with no more than a flimsy directional baton to control the normal queues of visitors. The burst of 9mm rounds almost cut his body in two.
Another of the gunmen also fired towards a man dressed in a dark blue security uniform. The spray not only felled the unfortunate guard, but cut down two women and a fourteen year-old boy standing beside him.
The remaining two gunmen began firing indiscriminately at the entrance doors before raking the exterior of the gift shop where small groups of people huddled for safety.
The body toll was horrendous.