French President Francois Hollande met with top government and security officials after suicide bombers targeted a stadium, concert hall and Friday night cafe crowds in attacks that killed at least 120.
The special meeting in the Elysee Palace on Saturday morning came as police hunted for potential accomplices to eight attackers who were killed in Friday night’s violence. Hollande declared a state of emergency – the first such move in a decade – and ordered 1,500 additional troops deployed.
The attacks raise concerns about international events that France is hosting, such as a UNESCO forum in Paris on Monday with world leaders, and major climate talks in Paris in two weeks.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and army, gendarme and police chiefs were among those at the meeting.
The worst carnage was at a concert hall hosting an American rock band, where scores of people were held hostage and attackers hurled explosives at their captives. Police who stormed the building, killing three attackers, encountered a bloody scene of horror inside.
The attack unfolded with two suicide bombings and an explosion outside the national stadium during a soccer match between the French and German national teams. Within minutes, according to Paris police chief Michel Cadot, another group of attackers sprayed cafes outside the concert hall with machine gunfire, then stormed inside and opened fire on the panicked audience. As police closed in, they detonated explosive belts, killing themselves.
Hollande, who had to be evacuated from the stadium when the bombs went off outside, later vowed that the nation would stand firm and united: “A determined France, a united France, a France that joins together and a France that will not allow itself to be staggered even if today, there is infinite emotion faced with this disaster, this tragedy, which is an abomination, because it is barbarism.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, although jihadists on Twitter immediately praised them and criticized France’s military operations against Islamic State extremists.
In addition to the deaths at the concert hall, dozens were killed in an attack on a restaurant in the 10th arrondissement and several other establishments crowded on a Friday night, police said. Authorities said at least three people died when the bombs went off outside the soccer stadium.
All of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be publicly named in the quickly moving investigation.
U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters in Washington, called the attacks on Paris “outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians” and vowed to do whatever it takes to help bring the perpetrators to justice. He called the attacks a “heartbreaking situation” and an “attack on all of humanity.”
France has been on edge since January, when Islamic extremists attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had run cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, and a kosher grocery. Twenty people died, including the three attackers. The Charlie Hebdo attackers claimed links to extremists in Yemen, while the kosher market attacker claimed ties to the Islamic State group.
This time, they targeted young people enjoying a rock concert and ordinary city residents enjoying a Friday night out.
One of at least two restaurants targeted Friday, Le Carillon, is in the same general neighborhood as the Charlie Hebdo offices, as is the Bataclan, among the best-known venues in eastern Paris, near the trendy Oberkampf area known for a vibrant nightlife. The California-based band Eagles of Death Metal was scheduled to play there Friday night. All members of the band are safe and have been accounted for, a U.S. official briefed by the Justice Department said.
Meanwhile, the rock band U2 postponed its Saturday night concert in Paris in the light of the deadly attacks across the city on Friday night. HBO had planned to televise the band’s performance. Instead, U2 said in a statement that it is resolved to go ahead with the concert “at an appropriate time.” U2 members say they watched in shock and disbelief at the unfolding events, and were devastated by the loss of life at the concert held by Eagles of Death Metal.
Friends and relatives used social media to search for loved ones feared to have been at the sites of the Paris attacks.
“We are looking for Marie, who was at the Bataclan, we have no news from her. If you see her, please contact me (hash)Bataclan”, reads one tweet from (at)Photographys, posted with a photo.
“If you have news of Christophe aka (at)MokeComputer he was at Bataclan tonight and we need to hear from him,” tweets a user named (at)Lorelei–Jade.
Facebook also offered its “Safety Check” feature to allow users who listed to mark themselves as safe if they listed Paris as their location.
Earlier in the evening, Parisians used the hashtag (hash)portesouvertes, or “open doors,” to offer a place to stay for people who were evacuated from the sites of the attacks. In the U.S., some used the hashtag (hash)strandedinUS to offer shelter for people who were unable to travel back to France.
The country has seen several smaller-scale attacks or attempts since, including an incident on a high-speed train in August in which American travelers thwarted an attempted attack by a heavily armed man.
France’s military is bombing Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq and fighting extremists in Africa, and extremist groups have frequently threatened France in the past.
French authorities are particularly concerned about the threat from hundreds of French Islamic radicals who have travelled to Syria and returned home with skills to stage violence.
Though who was responsible for Friday night’s violence remained a mystery, the Islamic State is “clearly the name at the top of everyone’s list,” Brian Michael Jenkins, a terrorism expert and senior adviser to the president of RAND Corp., said.
Jenkins said the tactic used – “multiple attackers in coordinated attacks at multiple locations” – echoed recommendations published in extremist group’s online magazine, Dabbiq, over the summer.
“The big question on everyone’s mind is, were these attackers, if they turn out to be connected to one of the groups in Syria, were they homegrown terrorists or were they returning fighters from having served” with the Islamic State group, Jenkins said. “That will be a huge question.”
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton, Jerome Pugmire, Samuel Petrequin, Jamey Keaten and John-Thor Dahlburg contributed to this story.