Assailants turned Paris into a deadly combat zone Friday night, launching a series of explosions and shootings at popular nightspots that resulted in the deaths of more than 120 people and led to a bold counter-attack by security forces at a concert hall to free scores of hostages.
In an address to the nation Saturday, French President Francois Hollande said that the death toll from the horrific attacks had risen to 127 and blamed the extremist group Islamic State for the carnage.
“It’s an act of war that’s been declared," Holande said. "This is an act of barbarity.”
He said the attacks on at least six sites around the city were “committed by a terrorist army" and vowed that France “will be merciless toward the barbarians of Islamic State."
He also declared three days of mourning for the victims.
It was unclear whether any attackers or accomplices remained at large. The Paris prosecutor's office said eight attackers were killed around the French capital Friday night, seven in suicide bombings, according to the Associated Press. French media had earlier put the number of dead assailants at between three and six.
Hollande called in military reinforcements to secure the streets, instituted controls at the borders, and declared a nationwide state of emergency. Paris was essentially closed Saturday, with schools, museums, libraries, gyms, pools and food markets shut and outdoor events canceled.
Officials were defiant in declaring they wouldn't allow the attack to crush the city’s spirit.
“This evening is a moment of pain and mourning,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said at a brief news conference Friday. “But Paris is still here and standing. ... The joie de vivre that is part of this city, [the attackers] have not touched that.”
The raid by security forces at the Bataclan concert hall capped a bloody night of terror that began about 9:20 p.m. Friday with reports of shootings at restaurants and explosions outside a stadium where France was playing Germany in an international soccer match, with Hollande in attendance.
Officials were still trying to piece together what happened during the attack at the Bataclan. At least some of the attackers were killed, but French news reports differed on the number. A U.S. law enforcement source said four died in the concert hall, including three who killed themselves with suicide vests.
Some of the hostages said they recalled hearing the gunmen yelling, “This is for Syria” and “God is great,” before they fired.
At the Bataclan, about 500 yards from where a gunman attacked a busy bar and Vietnamese restaurant, a Southern California band called the Eagles of Death Metal was performing. The group had been on stage for about an hour when there was gunfire, panic and a stampede.
Julien Pearce, a journalist, said he was in the hall when at least two people opened fire with automatic weapons.
“It lasted at least 10, 15 minutes,” he said, according to the French newspaper Le Monde. “They reloaded three or four times. ... When the shots stopped, we took advantage of the calm to go out the emergency exits, and there we saw lots of people in the street who were covered in blood.”
Another concertgoer quoted by the paper said: “I saw automatic weapons. I walked on bodies. There was blood. In the street, there were dead people.”
Residents in nearby apartments threw sheets to cover bodies.
The streets around the theater were sealed off, and there were helicopters overhead. The area is close to the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the site of another deadly terror attack in January.
At the packed Stade de France, the national stadium in Saint-Denis, just north of Paris, Hollande was evacuated when two or three explosions were reported near the soccer match.
“It’s a horror,” he said in brief televised remarks soon after. “We have mobilized all possible forces so that the terrorists can be neutralized and all the affected neighborhoods can be secured.
“There is indeed reason to be afraid,” he added. “There is terror, but there is in the face of terror a nation that knows how to defend itself, that knows how to mobilize its forces and that once again will be able to defeat the terrorists.”
President Obama called the attacks an “outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians.”
“Those who think that they can terrorize the people of France or the values that they stand for are wrong,” Obama said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to work with the French people and with nations around the world to bring these terrorists to justice and to go after any terrorist networks that go after our people.”
The attacks come as Obama is set for two trips abroad. He leaves Saturday for a nine-day trip to Turkey, the Philippines and Malaysia. He is then due to travel to Paris for a major summit on climate change.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama said he would not speculate about who was responsible for the violence.
At least two restaurants in Paris' 10th arrondissement, neighbors Le Carillon and Le Petit Cambodge, were attacked in the course of the violence. Another eatery, La Belle Equipe cafe, was hit in the 11th arrondissement.
Alexandra Colineau said she was on her way to meet friends for dinner in the 11th arrondissement when loud popping noises tore through the chatter on the street. Colineau said she stopped in her tracks. The people walking near her froze too, she said, while those in nearby cafes stuck their heads out to see what was going on.
“The sound was very loud, and then I realized the back-to-back shots sounded like a Kalashnikov,” said Colineau, 35. “It seemed like it went on for 20 seconds.”
Moments later, she said, a black car started honking to get other drivers to leave the area. Colineau reached for her phone. It was 9:39 p.m.
“I heard gunshots,” she texted her friends. “I can smell gunpowder.”
Colineau said she stood on the street for about five minutes before she ran to her friends, who were waiting at a restaurant close by. As she told them what she saw, the group pulled out their cellphones to look at Twitter. That’s when they realized there were shootings at multiple locations in addition to explosions, she said.
“Now I think I was so stupid to stand there and not run away,” Colineau said. “No one ran away. ... Everyone stood there.”
Aaron Harris of Los Angeles, in Paris with a band due to play at the Bataclan over the weekend, said he was walking back from dinner with a group of friends Friday night when police sirens started blaring. At first, he said, he thought nothing of it, but then he noticed police blocking off the streets.
He said the friends rushed back to their hotel, where employees hurried them inside. They waited in the lobby. Five people ran in about 30 minutes later, terrified. Panicked people fled to their rooms.
Harris said he hasn’t left his room since. “Everyone is a little confused and upset,” he said.
Harris, who arrived in Paris on Thursday morning, works as part of the touring crew for the Deftones. Three members from the band’s touring party attended the Friday night concert at the Bataclan, but left 15 minutes before the hostages were seized, he said. The Deftones were scheduled to play at Bataclan on Saturday night, Harris said.
“I’m obviously freaked out about that, that we were scheduled to be there,” he said. “But I’m also freaked out because a good friend of mine played there this evening and I texted him. ... He didn’t reply.”
France has been on edge since January attacks by Islamic extremists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, at a kosher grocery and on a policewoman; 17 were killed, as were the three attackers.
The latest attacks also come as France has heightened security measures ahead of the Paris global climate conference, which is scheduled to start in two weeks.
Samia Maktouf, a Paris lawyer, said her suburban neighborhood was in shock. At 2 a.m., she was still up, watching the news.
“It’s like we are at war -- no, it is war. There are soldiers in the streets, the borders are closed. People are calling to see if I am OK; people are calling because they cannot do connecting flights even from Paris,” she said.
“We are all sorry about what happened, and we don’t know what to do. Because what happened in France could happen anywhere in the world,” she said. “We say it every time, we hope it is the last time.”
Staff writers Muskal and Zavis reported from Los Angeles, and special correspondent Willsher reported from Paris. Staff writers David Ng and Sarah Parvini in Los Angeles, Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston and Richard A. Serrano in Washington contributed to this report.
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