Responding swiftly to the murders of 129 people in Paris, French President François Hollande declared a nationwide state of emergency on Friday night, a drastic measure taken only twice since the country was occupied in the second World War.
French officials say seven terrorists detonated suicide belts in attacks striking six locations in north and central Paris. An eighth attacker, who was also wearing a bomb, was shot dead by police.
In a statement on Saturday, the Islamic State took credit for the serial bombings, calling it “the first of the storm.” The group threatened France would “remain on the top of the list of targets of the Islamic State.”
“Faced with terror, France must be strong, it must be great, and the state authorities must be firm,”
“It is an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army… against France,” said Hollande from the Élysée Palace. “It is an act of war that was prepared, organized and planned from abroad, with complicity from the inside, which the investigation will help establish.”
France will be “unforgiving with the barbarians from Daesh,” he added, using an Arabic word for the Islamic State.
After learning there were armed men on a killing spree in their neighborhoods Friday night, Parisians worked to get as many people off the streets as they could, offering up their homes and businesses as sanctuary to complete strangers. Despite the fear of death purposely instilled through the craven acts of terrorists, they opened their doors.
In addition to the casualties, hundreds of others were injured.
On Saturday, officials said that one of the gunmen was found with a Syrian passport, and along with refugees fleeing civil war in the region, may have passed through the Greek island of Leros last month. Another, who helped murder at least 80 people at Bataclan, a theater in the same neighborhood as Charlie Hebdo’s former offices, was a Frenchman from a suburb just south of Paris. Three others may have come from a neighborhood in Brussels, officials said.
Paris prosecutor François Molins told reporters on Saturday that one of the men who perpetrated the Bataclan massacre had a security file as an Islamic radical. “We can say at this stage of the investigation there was probably three coordinated teams of terrorists behind this barbaric act,” he said.
The search for accomplices is not limited to France. On Saturday, Belgian authorities announced the arrests of several suspects, one of whom is believed to have rented a car used in the attacks.
President Hollande, who was in the vicinity of a suicide bombing while attending a French and German exhibition soccer match at the national stadium, called the murder of nearly 130 civilians an “act of war.”
In response, he instituted a curfew on Friday night and ordered 1,500 French soldiers into the capital city. Enhanced security checks were implemented at airports, railway stations, wharfs, and road border crossings.
“It is an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army… against France,”
Under the rarely invoked l’état d’urgence, or “state of emergency,” French police are authorized to lock down entire neighborhoods and cities, closing businesses and conducting searches with fewer restrictions. The 1955 law, last employed during a series of riots over decade ago, also allows the authorities to establish “safe zones,” prohibiting the travel of people and vehicles in or out of defined areas.
As long as the state of emergency is in effect, the government has the power to detain anyone whose activity is seen as a security risk, seize the weapons of private citizens, and disrupt public gatherings deemed a threat to public order.
“Faced with terror, France must be strong, it must be great, and the state authorities must be firm,” Hollande declared in a televised address to the nation. “We will be.”
At a Saturday press briefing, U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the attacks, calling them “an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians.” The president would not speculate on who was responsible.
“This is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share,” Obama said from the White House. “We stand prepared and ready to provide whatever assistance the people of France need to respond.”
Update 4:37pm CT, Nov. 17: Latest casualty numbers added.
Photo by Moyan Brenn/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)