Horrific shootings and bombings have rocked the French capitalby / November 14, 2015 / Leave a comment
[This story was posted at 07.22 on Saturday and last updated at 10.03 on Monday. It was kept updated as news broke over the weekend but will now not be updated further as we work on other coverage]
[This piece draws extensively on Reuters, BBC and Guardian coverage as well as independent sources]
A string of co-ordinated terror attacks carried out by gunmen and bombers tore through Paris on friday, with at least 129 people killed and over 350 injured across the city. The situation is developing, with a major police investigation ongoing to identify the attackers and hunt down their accomplices. Here’s what is clear at this point:
Where were the attacks?
Late last Friday night, gunmen and suicide bombers stormed six venues around the city—four bars and restaurants in the 10th and 11th districts, the Bataclan concert hall, where rock band Eagles of Death Metal were playing a gig, and the area around the Stade de France football stadium, where three suicide bombers blew themselves up. The attacks took place over a three hour period. By far the bloodiest attack was that on the concert hall, where 89 people died after gunmen burst in to the building and took dozens hostage before blowing themselves up when security forces arrived. “It was a bloodbath,” witness Julien Pearce told CNN. “It was like a gust of wind in a wheat field. Everyone fell—dead, injured or alive,” another witness told France’s Liberation newspaper. The suicide bombers used the explosive triacetone triperoxide, according to the Paris prosecutor.
Tragically, on the night of the attacks, 1,000 emergency workers who responded to the Germanwings plane crash earlier this year were in the Stade de France on a special reward trip, according to the Guardian.
In this personal piece about his time living in the 11th, my colleague Jonathan Derbyshire writes: “The 11th is a symbol of Paris’s success—and that’s why, I suspect, the killers did their worst there. The 11th is where students and young professionals, the kinds of people who’d have been thronging the bars and cafés of the rue de Charonne last night, live cheek-by-jowl with “bourgeois bohemians” of child-bearing age and alongside the descendants of North African immigrants (Sephardic Jews and Muslims alike) and a sizeable chunk of the city’s West African diaspora.”
The analyst and journalist Sharif Nashashibi writes for Prospect that the attacks represent a “quantum leap” in IS’s capabilities.
The attack is the most devastating in Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombing. It is superficially similar to a 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, in which gunmen targeted six locations across the city.
Here’s a map of the attacks from the Associated Press:
— AP Interactive (@AP_Interactive) November 14, 2015
Who were the attackers?
French President Francois Hollande has said that the attacks were carried out by Islamic State (IS), calling them an “act of war.” IS has formally claimed responsibility, saying in a statement written in French that it scoped out its targets carefully. Terror experts called the attacks “well-co-ordinated” and “well organised,” and, as the below timeline makes clear, they happened in remarkably quick succession. Evidence is beginning to point to a co-ordinated network of terrorists at least partly co-ordinated from Belgium, and potentially involving as many as 24 plotters.
France is one of the European countries most heavily involved in action against IS in Syria, and IS says the attacks were in part a response to airstrikes against it. France has pledged to continue its involvement in air strikes, and launched massive air raids on the IS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria on Sunday, dropping 20 bombs.
Attention has immediately focused on establishing the identities of the gunmen and bombers, seven of whom are dead—though other accomplices are likely at large and being hunted. French, Belgian, German and Greek police forces are working to identify the attackers and unpick their network. The US is reportedly also sending FBI officers to help, and Israel has said it is helping with intelligence. A key area of public concern is whether the attackers were French or EU citizens, or whether they travelled to France to carry out the attacks.
Three people identified by police as suspects connected with the attack were French nationals. Omar Ismaïl Mostefai, a 29-year-old from the southern Paris suburb of Courcouronnes, was the first. Mostefai—who is now believed dead—was allegedly one of the gunmen who stormed the Bataclan.
A French man living in Belgium, Salah Abdeslam, is named as a suspect in the police investigation into the attack—the precise nature of his alleged involvement is not yet clear. Police have issued an arrest warrant for the 26-year-old, who allegedly rented a Belgian-registered VW polo parked outside the Bataclan. Abdeslam was reportedly arrested and then released by police at the Belgian border following the attacks. His brother, Ibrahim, has been named as possibly among the attackers who died during the attacks.
Samy Amimour, born in 1987 in Paris, living in Drancy, has been named as a suspected attacker.
Another suspected attacker was found with a Syrian passport and may have entered Europe via Greece posing as a refugee.
Speaking to my colleague Jay Elwes, a former head of MI6 questions whether IS is definitely responsible.
Writing in Prospect, the academic Matthew Goodwin says that far-right parties across Europe will exploit the attacks to push an anti-Islam agenda. “Soon, public opposition to accepting refugees will harden. Wilders and his brethren will make hay. Liberals, meanwhile, change their Facebook pictures and voice solidarité. But it all feels so empty. Big questions about identity, values and integration will continue to be ducked. Unless liberals can set out their own vision for how Europe can tackle its multiple crises, of which violent Islamism is only one, they risk losing the argument completely and all that this would entail,” he says.
Who were the victims?
At least one Briton has died—26-year-old Nick Alexander—whose girlfriend Polina Buckley unsuccessfully took to twitter to track him down:
— Polina Buckley (@polinabuckley) November 14, 2015
Alexander died in the arms of his former girlfriend Helen Wilson, who was with him.
She told the Sunday Times: “His back was to me and I couldn’t see what happened and I tried to keep him talking and then I tried to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and they [the gunmen] were just sort of in the shadows and they would shoot if anyone said anything.
“Then he couldn’t breathe any more and I held him in my arms and told him I loved him. He was the love of my life.”
Details of other victims are beginning to emerge. The BBC’s page is a good source on this.
What was the official response?
President Francois Hollande pledged a robust retaliation, saying on Friday:
“We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless. Because when terrorists are capable of committing such atrocities they must be certain that they are facing a determined France, a united France, a France that is together and does not let itself be moved, even if today we express infinite sorrow.”
Hollande declared a state of emergency across France. Local authorities have been given power to impose curfews, and many of the police raids being carried out in connection with the attacks are authorised under these powers. The French prime minister says police have made at least 150 raids since the attack. France is calling for an emergency EU security summit to be held this Friday.
France has mobilised 1,000 extra troops, mostly in Paris, on top of the 30,000 police and soldiers introduced in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Many public spaces in Paris were closed over the weekend, including the Eiffel Tower. But there have also been scenes of joy and solidarity across the city, notably this mysterious man, now named as Davide Martello who arrived outside the Bataclan to play John Lennon’s Imagine:
Many gathered on Sunday in the Place de Republique to show solidarity with the dead and wounded:
“Non non non on n’a pas peur”, so-so-so solidarité. Place de la république, deux jours après pic.twitter.com/TjEFUtAjBt
— Gilles Dhers (@gillesdhers) November 15, 2015
A false alarm led many of these people to flee—and some to subsequently return—after the noise of firecrackers was mistaken for gunfire.
World leaders immediately joined Hollande in condemning the attacks, with David Cameron and Barack Obama among those lending their voices. With the G20 meeting in Turkey beginning on Sunday, world leaders in all member nations agreed to step up border controls and aviation security. Obama has vowed to “redouble” the fight against IS, and David Cameron has said he hopes western countries will be able to agree a joint strategy on IS with Russia.
Meanwhile, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has cancelled a forthcoming official visit to France, due to take place next week, while denouncing the attacks as a “crime against humanity.” The Pope has also condemned the killings in the strongest terms as “inhuman” acts.
The international Cop21 climate summit is still due to take place in Paris next week.
Images from the violence:
What does this mean for Britain?
David Cameron spoke to the media on Saturday after chairing a meeting of COBR. “To the French people, my message is simple. Nous sommes solidaires avec vous. Nous sommes tous ensemble. We are with you, we are united,” he said.
Home Secretary Theresa May, speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, came close to confirming that ever since the 2008 multiple-gunmen attack in Mumbai, the SAS have been on standby to tackle a similar tragedy in the UK. The Sunday Times reports that an SAS unit has been moved from Hereford to Northolt. David Cameron is to respond to the escalation in terror attacks by providing 1,900 extra security and intelligence staff and doubling funds for aviation security, the Guardian reports.
May also played down suggestions that the government might push for an earlier vote on the expansion of air strikes into Syria—Labour remains opposed and so the consensus the government has said it wants does not exist.
Speaking to my colleague Serena Kutchinsky, defence and security expert Michael Clarke said that Britain was better protected against this kind of attack than France—but perhaps not secure enough, with the risk of an attack in the next 12 months very high.
The Guardian reported that Britain’s “most senior counter-terrorism officials,” including the commissioner of the Metropolitan police and security officials at Mi5, were monitoring the situation at the weekend. The paper says that British terrorism officers regard their French counterparts as among the best in the world. The Metropolitan police force says it will undergo an “urgent review of tactics” following the attack. The Met police say that London and Paris are “linked”
Met Commissioner (cont’d) “London & Paris are linked as 2 of the world’s strongest capital cities and we stand prepared to help in any way.” — Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) November 14, 2015
London Mayor Boris Johnson has also joined condemnation of the attacks
And the annual Lord Mayor’s fireworks in London have been cancelled:
The North Terminal at Gatwick was closed for several hours yesterday, after it was evacuated due to a suspicious package and the arrest of a man in connection with it.
Social media reaction:
David Patrikarakos cautions in Prospect that “What seems lost amongst all this infighting is an essence of the event itself, and what it means. The fact it involves horror and suffering and fear is not adequately absorbed or reflected upon before the online posturing begins. Events like this no longer have value or meaning in themselves, only inasmuch as they can be made the self-serving symbol of a virtue or cause”
The standard hashtag for news and updates, #ParisAttacks, was trending all Saturday.
In a bizarre moment of levity, many people piled in on this tweet from Kay Burley:
— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) November 15, 2015
#PrayForParis trended worldwide, while others used #SolidarityWithParis and other hashtags to declare their sympathy:
From Japanese pop star Yoshiki:
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon:
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
My thoughts are with the people of Paris tonight. We stand in solidarity with the French. Such acts are heinous and immoral. — Jeremy Corbyn MP (@jeremycorbyn) November 13, 2015
Others seeking to pre-empt any backlash against Muslims, were using the hashtag #TerrorismHasNoReligion:
And throughout the day, #rechercheParis was used as a means of attempting to track down lost loved ones or colleagues