Deadly Paris attacks may be just the beginning
Lille, France // Security officials fear Europe faces further mass casualty attacks by ISIL after at least 129 people were killed in a series of shootings and explosions that stunned Paris and led the French president Francois Hollande to declare a state of national emergency.
In the deadliest of Friday night’s attacks, about 89 people were murdered while attending a rock concert by the US band Eagles of Death Metal at the Bataclan, a city-centre concert hall on the Boulevard Voltaire.
Gunmen also staged assaults on five bars and restaurants in the city and outside the Stade de France, the country’s main sports venue, where France were playing Germany in a football friendly. In all, at least 352 people were wounded, with 99 in critical condition, the Paris prosecutor said.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said the attackers, seven of whom were killed, worked in three teams, striking seven times in quick succession.
Mr Hollande described the slaughter as “an act of war” committed by ISIL and planned outside France with the complicity of terrorists within the country. A statement in ISIL’s name later claimed responsibility, saying the attacks were in retaliation for French air strikes against its positions in Syria.
The French president announced three days of mourning, strict controls at all frontiers and large-scale deployment of police and troops in public places. He warned of possible disruption to daily life.
Many of Paris’s top tourist attractions closed on Saturday, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and the Disneyland theme park east of the capital.
Investigators found a Syrian passport near the scene of one of the blasts at the Stade de France and one of the killers in the concert hall attack has been identified as a 30-year-old French national listed by the authorities for his “radicalisation”. Greek officials said the holder of the passport had passed through the island of Leros on October 3.
Meanwhile, Belgian police raided a neighbourhood in the capital Brussels in connection with the attacks, public television RTBF reported.
The network quoted an unidentified source as saying up to three raids were being carried out in the Molenbeek district but police were not immediately available for comment.
RTBF said one man was arrested.
From late on Friday, messages of solidarity with France were offered by other world leaders, including the US president Barack Obama, the British prime minister David Cameron and the German chancellor Angela Merkel. The Vatican condemned “an attack on all humanity” and floral tributes were left at French embassies in several countries.
Muslim leaders also denounced the killings. Ahmad Al Tayyib, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, one of the principal Sunni authorities, said Islam was “innocent of terrorism” and also called for international cooperation to counter terrorism.
The fast-moving sequence of attacks, which began shortly after 9pm, amounted to the bloodiest terrorist atrocity in Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombings, in which 191 died. They were described by French media as the most murderous acts of violence in any single day since the end of the 1939-45 world war.
At the worst of them, the shooting at the Bataclan theatre, a sell-out audience of 1,500 people had gathered for the rock concert.
Several gunmen burst inside brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles. They fired first into the air and then into the audience, with young people in the standing area in front of the stage the chief targets.
As concert-goers desperately sought cover, witnesses heard the attackers shout “God is great” in Arabic and blamed their actions on Mr Hollande’s decision to launch air strikes against ISIL in Syria last month. Members of the Californian band escaped through a door at the rear of the stage.
“We thought it was fireworks but finally there were men shooting in all directions. So we all lay on the floor and started crawling towards the stage,” said one woman quoted by the BBC. Footage taken during the attack by Daniel Psenny, a journalist from Le Monde newspaper whose flat overlooks an emergency exit, showed people fleeing in horror from the theatre past inanimate bodies as a pregnant woman seemed to perch on a window ledge and a man clung to a drainpipe to escape the gunfire.
Julien Pearce, a journalist from the Europe 1 radio station, was inside the theatre. He said many people found themselves trapped in an enclosed space without immediate possibility of escape.
“I waited until the terrorist started reloading their weapons before telling people they had to get out, to do something ” he said. “We ran to the stage, right in front of the terrorist who looked at us as they reloaded.”
Many concert-goers still in the hall after the initial gunfire were held hostage, with more deaths occurring until police stormed the venue to end the siege.
Le Figaro newspaper quoted one man, Yvan, as saying: “My girlfriend Claire was celebrating her best friend’s birthday at the concert. There’s been no news, their mobile phones are on voicemail. We were getting engaged in three weeks and now I don’t know if I’ll see her again.”
At the Stade de France, in the northern suburbs of Paris, two loud explosions from outside had been clearly audible to players and spectators. Mr Hollande was attending the game but was quickly led from the stadium by security staff. He later held emergency talks with senior ministers and made a live televised address to the nation before visiting the Bataclan.
Outside the stadium, a brasserie and two fast food stalls had been targeted in suicide bombings in which three attackers were killed. At one stage, supporters flocked on to the pitch but the match was completed and players watched events on television monitors in the tunnel.
All the city centre incidents occurred in the 10th and 11th arrondissements, districts bustling with locals and tourists who, until the first gunfire was heard, were enjoying a typical Friday’s Parisian nightlife. Although the timing of all the attacks suggested a carefully coordinated operation, as indicated by the president, it initially appeared possible the targets – with the exception of the rock concert – may have been chosen at random.
But ISIL’s statement admitting it had carried out the attacks talked of “eight brothers wearing explosive vests and assault rifles [who] targeted carefully chosen locations in the heart of the French capital”. The statement, which described Paris as the “capital of abomination and perversion”, was written in French and Arabic, and also distributed in audio, via “established ISIL channels” according to Peter King, the BBC’s “jihadist media expert”.
Shooting was first reported at Le Carillon, a bar in rue Alibert. A masked man opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon before crossing the street to attack diners at Le Petit Cambodge (Little Cambodia) restaurant. Witnesses described seeing between 20 and 30 bodies.
One woman, identified as Florence, who had been passing on her scooter, told French media of a “surreal scene with everyone on the ground”. She saw a man carrying a young woman who seemed dead and another man, in tears, saying his sister had been killed,
A few streets away, a man opened fire on customers on the terrace of a pizzeria, La Casa Nostra, in rue de la Fontaine au Roi. Several people died at this location.
In the 11th district, two men were seen firing at the terrace of La Belle Equipe, a bar in the rue de Charonne, leaving dead and wounded on the ground. Gunfire was also heard near the busy Canal Saint-Martin area.
The attacks were consistent with warnings in recent months that although intelligence authorities had thwarted several terrorist attacks in the past year, ISIL was planning more.
Andrew Parker, director general of Britain’s MI5 security service, said the terrorist group was intent on carrying out mass casualty attacks.
“It uses the full range of modern communications tools to spread its message of hate, and to inspire extremists, sometimes as young as their teens, to conduct attacks in whatever way they can,” he said in a speech last month. During Paris’s night of terror, one witness spoke of the attackers seeming very young.
In the first of his televised addresses, Mr Hollande acknowledged the risk of further violence, a theme echoed by a succession of politicians and analysts speaking on French media.
“Faced with terror, France must be strong, it must be great and the state authorities must be firm,” the president said. “We will be ... What the terrorists want is to scare us and fill us with dread. There is indeed reason to be afraid. There is dread, but in the face of this dread, there is a nation that knows how to defend itself, that knows how to mobilise its forces and, once again, will defeat the terrorists.”
Updated: November 15, 2015 04:00 AM