South Armagh man caught up in Paris terror attacks

November 16, 2015

A Forkhill man who found himself at the centre of the Paris terrorist attacks on Friday night has given an insight into the fear and panic which gripped the French capital during a night of unprecedented carnage which left 128 people dead and more than 350 injured.

What began as an enjoyable Friday evening for Cormac Flynn and his group of friends, frequenting bars and dining in the city where he has lived for 9 years, soon turned into the stuff of nightmares for the south Armagh man, when a series of coordinated attacks, claimed by Islamic State militants, were launched on the bustling Parisian streets.

Cormac, who is the son of former Sinn Fein councillor Anthony Flynn, was enjoying a meal with friends in a restaurant in the 11th district of the city, just around the corner from the Bataclan concert hall, when the attacks began. As the horror unfolded, he remained hidden in the restaurant along with scores of other diners and injured victims of the shootings until the imminent danger had passed and they were police escorted to relative safety.

It is now understood that eight Isis gunmen, split into three teams, stormed the Parisian streets on the busy Friday night when bars and restaurants were characteristically teeming with residents and tourists.

The series of coordinated attacks began soon after 9pm (8pm GMT) when a gunman opened fire on Le Carillon bar in the 10th district of Paris, before crossing the road to a Cambodian restaurant, killing a total of 15 people.

A few streets away, an Italian pizzeria was the scene of further carnage when 5 diners were killed in a spray of bullets.

Nineteen more people were killed at the Belle Equipe bar in the 11th district followed by the worst of the atrocities  at the Bataclan concert hall. Concert lovers attending a gig by Californian death metal band Eagles of Death were mown down by machine gun fire when gunmen stormed the building killing 89 people.

Simultaneously, the Stade de France football stadium in the northern outskirts of the city was targeted with three suicide bombers detonating explosions outside the venue where 80,000 people had gathered to watch France play Germany.

Speaking to Marian Finucane on RTE Radio 1 on Saturday morning, Cormac relayed the horror and confusion felt amongst hundreds of people caught up in the attacks. He explained that he first realised something was wrong around 10pm when everyone in the restaurant began to stand up.  Seated at the back of the restaurant, Mr Flynn and his party were initially unaware of what was happening until it became apparent that shooting victims were being brought into the restaurant. One victim had been shot in the leg and the other in the stomach.

In the ensuing confusion, Mr Flynn said people began to realise that something significant was happening.

“Obviously the Charlie Hebdo attacks from a year ago took place just 15 minutes down the road so our first thought was that something similar to that was taking place,” he said.

Crouched on the floor of the restaurant with the lights turned off to avoid detection, Cormac and the other diners began to call loved ones to let them know they were safe. Eventually police and emergency services took charge and moved the group to the stairwell of the building where they remained for the next 2 hours.

Describing the atmosphere as “strange” and “tense” Cormac said everyone was shocked by what was going on and concert-goers who had been in the Bataclan concert hall when the attacks began were  “very, very upset.”

Shortly after midnight the group were evacuated from the restaurant under a heavily armed police presence.  In scenes Mr Flynn said were reminiscent of a movie, the terrified diners were told to run as fast as they could to a neighbouring street which was blocked off with ambulances and police vehicles. Remaining there for the next three hours, still largely unaware of the scale of the terror which had been launched on the capital city, Mr Flynn and his friends managed to find a safe route to walk home around 4am.

Relieved to have emerged from the carnage unscathed, Cormac stressed that the 11th district where he has lived for almost a decade, and where the majority of the attacks took place, was a very “mixed area” of colour and creed with a very large Muslim population.

“I know lots of French people and lots of people from all over the world,” he said.

“The part of the 11th that I live in has a very, very large muslim population and everyone gets along.  It’s a very mixed melting pot, in fact the area is notable in Paris for being one of the most mixed areas.”

Cormac’s father, former Sinn Fein councillor Anthony Flynn, spoke to The Examiner in the aftermath of the horrific attacks, and said he was “hugely relieved” to have made contact with his son in the midst of the dramatic events to confirm he was safe and said the attacks were so shocking as they were “so close to home” and most likely affected a number of Irish people.

“We’re a nation with people all over the world so there is always the likelihood that Irish people will be affected by these sort of events,” he said.

“Cormac told us that earlier in the evening he had been in a bar next door to the Bataclan concert hall so he was certainly just lucky that he had moved on, even though he was still close to the attacks. The restaurant he was in was also very close to where the Charlie Hebdo attacks had taken place and I’m sure something on this scale happening in the same district is bound to affect his sense of security and safety.

“We were just very glad to be able to speak to him as we watched the events unfold and confirm that he was safe. He was very lucky.”

French authorities say that all eight attackers were killed, with seven detonating suicide vests. French President Francois Hollande closed France’s borders in the wake of the the attacks and declared three days of national mourning in the country. Arrests were made in France and Belgium on Saturday in connection with the investigation into the co-ordination of the terror attacks.