Paris terror attacks kill at least 120 as France goes Into lockdown; Europe's worst in 10 years

There’s a strong chance the attacks are related to France’s participation in the fight against extremists in Syria and north Africa.

AT least 120 people were killed in Paris in Europe’s worst terrorist attacks for more than a decade and France tightened border controls and shut down public venues after gunmen targeted hostages at a rock concert and diners at a restaurant. 

President Francois Hollande imposed a state of alert and police advised people to stay indoors. Officials said attacks occurred at seven separate venues, including a sports stadium. 

At least five of the attackers were killed and Agence France- Presse reported the number may have risen to eight. French police said they couldn’t say how many were still at large. BFM television said security forces were still seeking one gunman.

As news of the attacks spread across the French capital, people huddled in quiet shock outside bars and cafes as the streets filled with the sound of sirens. Outside the concert venue, local media showed images of bodies shrouded in white sheets lined up on the streets. In some of the latest developments: 

•Police stormed a Paris theater where hostages were being held at a rock concert; four gunmen were killed. Attackers shouted ‘Allahu Akbar,’ according to local media 

•A U.S. counter-terrorism official said the attack points to enhanced capacity of jihadist groups as the Syrian civil war escalates 

•Hollande, who visited venue, told the nation in a televised address that “we must, in these difficult moments, show compassion and solidarity, but we also need to show unity and cool-headedness.” 

•France shut down all public venues Saturday, from museums to swimming pools, and police advised Parisians to stay indoors 

 •Hollande said he’ll skip the G-20 meeting of the world’s biggest economies starting this weekend in Turkey, and will convene his defense cabinet Saturday morning 

•An additional 1,500 French troops were deployed around the French capital 

•President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron expressed solidarity and offered any help needed.

•American Airlines held up departures to Paris late Friday The slaughter in Paris took place against a backdrop of mounting anxiety in Europe and beyond about jihadist extremism, as refugees from Syria pour into the continent. 

Seventeen people were killed in January in a rampage by gunmen that started at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine. Two weeks ago, a Russian passenger jet was downed over Sinai by what U.S. and U.K. intelligence says was probably a bomb. 

On Thursday, suicide bombers killed more than 40 people in Beirut. 

“France has always been aware of the threat but did not anticipate an attack of this scale,” said Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore. “Every successful attack is an intelligence failure. France will now take tougher measures.” 

French airports remain open and trains are still running, the Foreign Ministry said. 

U.S. law enforcement officials are concerned that the attacks demonstrate an enhanced capacity by jihadists, an American counter-terrorism official said. 

If Islamic State is found to have carried out the Paris slaughter and the downing of a Russian airliner over Egypt two weeks ago, that would signal the group has evolved into a more sophisticated terrorist force that can carry out strikes beyond the Middle East, the official said. 

The wave of attacks began earlier Friday when blasts rocked the Stade de France sports arena, where France was playing a soccer game against Germany. Hollande was at the game and was evacuated to the Interior Ministry. 

The hostage-taking occurred at the Bataclan theater in the 11th district of Paris, where the U.S. rock band Eagles of Death Metal was performing. 

There were also shootings outside a restaurant in the 10th district. La Royale, a bar not far from the Bataclan, was turned into a makeshift medical center. By early Saturday morning it had been cleared, though splotches of blood remained on the floor and the walls, while blood-stained shoes and surgical gloves lay on the floor. 

As it stands, the death toll would make Friday’s attacks the worst in Europe since the Madrid bombings of March 2004, which killed 191 people. 

There’s a strong chance the attacks are related to France’s participation in the fight against extremists in Syria and north Africa, said Thomas M. Sanderson, director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. He said Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are the likeliest suspects. 

“Long-standing grievances as well as contemporary activity by France makes them a tier-one target,” Sanderson said. “They’re not the primary actor from the air, [US] are, but they are much more reachable than the U.S. is.” 

The Paris attacks come on the same day that the U.S. said it was “reasonably certain” that it killed the Islamic State extremist known as “Jihadi John” in an airstrike in Syria. The man, a British citizen called Mohamed Emwazi, became infamous internationally from his appearance in videos showing the beheadings of Americans held by the terrorist group. On Thursday, he was the intended target of a Hellfire missile fired from a U.S. drone that hit a car near Raqqah.

-Bloomberg

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