Europe on High Alert

Europe on High AlertEurope on High Alert

Terror unleashed on Paris Friday night and early Saturday plunged not only France but entire Europe into turmoil and horror.

After the shocking incidents turned Paris and other French cities into garrisons, several other countries followed suit in raising their respective security.  Key centers in cities across Europe came under the tight control of the police, military and security forces.

As the sun rose on Saturday, the new security arrangements were not restricted to Europe alone. India and Singapore on the eastern flank and the United States and Canada to the West were also affected. The Russian Federation, which has often been threatened by Daesh/IS/ISIS, announced massive security operations.

Reports late Saturday on the attacks in Paris put the death toll at 127, but given the critical condition of many of the injured, this figure is expected to rise.

President Hassan Rouhani cancelled his planned official visit to Italy and France due to the "inhuman" attacks in the French capital. Most world leaders and dignitaries condemned the terror raids that cut short the life of dozens of innocent civilians and injured hundreds of others.            

Gunmen and bombers attacked restaurants, a concert hall and a sports stadium at locations across Paris on Friday, killing at least 127 people in a deadly rampage that a shaken President Francois Hollande called an unprecedented terrorist attack.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Islamic State released an undated video in which a militant said France would not live peacefully as long it took part in US-led bombing raids against its fighters.

A Paris city hall official said four gunmen systematically slaughtered at least 87 young people attending a rock concert at the Bataclan music hall. Anti-terrorist commandos eventually launched an assault on the building.

The gunmen detonated explosive belts and dozens of shocked survivors were rescued, while bodies were still being removed on Saturday morning, Reuters reported.

Some 40 more people were killed in five other attacks in the Paris region, the city hall official said, including an apparent double suicide bombing outside the Stade de France national stadium, where Hollande and the German foreign minister were watching a friendly soccer international. Some 200 people were injured.

The Paris carnage came within days of attacks claimed by IS militants on a Shia Muslim district of southern Beirut in Lebanon, and a Russian tourist aircraft that crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

The coordinated assault came as France, a founder member of the US-led coalition waging airstrikes against IS terrorists in Syria and Iraq, was on high alert for attacks ahead of a global climate conference due to open later this month.

Hollande said the death toll stood at 127. Officials said eight assailants had died, seven of whom had blown themselves up with explosive belts at various locations, while one had been shot dead by police. It was not clear if all the attackers were accounted for.

“The terrorists, the murderers raked several cafe terraces with machine-gun fire before entering (the concert hall). There were many victims in terrible, atrocious conditions in several places,” police prefect Michel Cadot told reporters.

After being whisked from the stadium near the blasts, Hollande declared a nationwide state of emergency—the first since the end of World War II. Border controls were temporarily reimposed to stop perpetrators escaping.

The Paris metro railroad was closed and schools, universities and municipal buildings were ordered to stay shut on Saturday. However, some rail and air services are expected to run.

“This is a horror,” the visibly shaken president said in a midnight television address to the nation before chairing an emergency Cabinet meeting.

He later went to the scene of the bloodiest attack, the Bataclan music hall, and vowed that the government would wage a “merciless” fight against terrorism.

Emergency services were mobilized, police leave was canceled, 1,500 army reinforcements were drafted into the Paris region and hospitals recalled staff to cope with the casualties.

Radio stations broadcast warnings to Parisians to stay home and leave the streets, and urged residents to give shelter to anyone caught out in the street.

  High Alert

France has been on high alert ever since the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket in Paris in January killed 18 people.

Those attacks briefly united France in defense of freedom of speech, with a mass demonstration of more than a million people. But that unity has since broken down, with far-right populist Marine Le Pen gaining on both mainstream parties by blaming “immigration and Islam for France’s security problems”.

Hollande canceled plans to travel to Turkey at the weekend for a G20 summit.

US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel led a global chorus of solidarity with France and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the “despicable attacks” and demanded the release of the hostages. The Vatican called the killings “mad terrorist violence”.

  Eyewitness Reports

Julien Pearce, a journalist from Europe 1 radio, was inside the concert hall when the shooting began. In an eyewitness report posted on the station’s website, Pearce said several very young individuals, who were not wearing masks, entered the hall during the concert, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and started “blindly shooting at the crowd”.

The gunmen shot their victims in the back, finishing some off at point-blank range before reloading their guns and firing again, Pearce said, after escaping into the street by a stage door, carrying a wounded girl on his shoulder.

Two explosions were heard near the Stade de France in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, where the France-Germany friendly soccer match was being played. The blasts were audible on television during the live broadcast.

A witness said one of the detonations blew people into the air outside a McDonald’s restaurant opposite the stadium.

The match continued until the end, but panic broke out in the crowd as rumors of the attack spread, and spectators were held in the stadium and assembled spontaneously on the pitch.

Police helicopters circled the stadium as Hollande was rushed back to the interior ministry to deal with the situation.

In central Paris, shooting erupted in mid-evening outside a Cambodian restaurant in the capital’s 10th district.

Eighteen people were killed when a gunman opened fire on Friday night diners sitting at outdoor terraces in the popular Charonne area nearby in the 11th district.