Unidentified gunmen opened fire at multiple locations in Paris Friday night in an unprecedented series of attacks that killed as many as 150 people.
French police stormed a concert hall where terrorists had taken hostages at a concert by an American rock group. The police reported on Facebook that two terrorist suspects had been killed in the raid and that at least 40 concert goers were dead. Paris’ deputy mayor later told news organizations that the death toll at the concert hall alone was at least 118.
Before the police raid, tweets from inside the concert hall pleaded with police to storm the building as soon as possible, saying that gunmen were killing hostages one by one and that the body count was mounting fast.
There was no claim of responsibility for the carnage, which police attributed to eight attackers, all of whom killed themselves or were killed during the attacks. In January, Yemen-based al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula said it was behind an attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that killed 12, while a gunmen responsible for five other deaths in that same week had claimed allegiance to the Islamic State.
French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and ordered the country to once again impose border controls.
In Washington D.C., President Barack Obama called the attacks “heartbreaking.”
“This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share,” he said. “We stand prepared and ready to provide whatever assistance that the government and the people of France need to respond. France is our oldest ally. The French people have stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States time and again. And we want to be very clear that we stand together with them in the fight against terrorism and extremism.”
In New York City, heavily armed police carrying assault rifles were stationed outside the French consulate, and in Washington D.C., police stepped up patrols outside French diplomatic posts.
News reports offered a confused version of events, reflecting the massive nature of the attacks, which caught Paris authorities unprepared. Initial reports said there had been four attacks, but as the night progressed that figure continued to change, with authorities eventually settling on six as the number. Four of the attacks took place at restaurants, including a McDonald’s near the national soccer stadium.
Survivors reported hearing their attackers shout “Allahu Akbar” – God is great – just before opening fire. At least four of the attackers killed themselves with explosive vests.
The deadliest of the attacks took place at the Bataclan concert hall, where shooters opened fire on a crowd that had gathered to hear a California-based band, The Eagles of Death Metal. Reports said the concert hall, which seats 1,500, was sold out.
Witnesses told the French newspaper Le Monde that the gunmen – there were at least two and possibly more – opened fire in the hall shortly before 10 p.m. and fired for 10 or 15 minutes, before reloading and continuing to fire. One witness said the gunmen were firing randomly, and photographs posted on social media showed sheet-covered bodies in an alley behind the theater, which was built in 1864.
A video shot by a Le Monde journalist captured concertgoers fleeing the scene out a side door, stepping past bodies. One can be seen dragging a wounded friend down the alleyway.
Fans of the band reported on Twitter that its members were safe.
There were reports of deaths at other locations as well.
Three bombs exploded near the Stade de France, where the French national soccer team was playing a game against Germany. The explosions could be heard on the international broadcast, but there was little reaction from the crowd and play continued. But as news of the explosions spread, French President Francois Hollande rushed back to work, and fans rushed onto the field.
Media reports indicated that the blasts were strong enough that spectators at the game could feel the force.
By midnight, Hollande had issued a “Red Alert” for terror attacks in France and had closed the borders of the nation and assigned the top terror prosecutor to handle investigations of the attacks.
The deadly attacks in Paris come during a particularly deadly spell for terror attacks. On Thursday, a reported suicide bomb attack left 43 dead in Beirut. Lebanese police have said an attacker who survived the attack said the Islamic State had recruited him for the attack. On Halloween two weeks ago, a Russian jet was apparently destroyed by a bomb after leaving Sharm el Sheik, Egypt. That attack killed 224 died; an Islamic State affiliate in Sinai claimed responsibility for the attack.
Friday’s attacks were second large scale terror incident in the French capital this year. The theater attack took place near the Place de la Republique, not far from the office of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Matthew Schofield: @mattschodcnews