By Griff Witte and William Branigin
November 13 at 8:35 PM
France declared a state of emergency and sealed its borders Friday evening after a series of apparently coordinated terrorist attacks struck at sites across Paris, leaving at least 140 people dead and scenes of horror and carnage outside a soccer stadium, at cafés and inside a concert hall.
At the Bataclan theater alone, at least 118 people were reported massacred by gunmen armed with assault rifles and explosives.
The attacks on half a dozen targets spawned panic and chaos in a city where residents and tourists had only minutes earlier been enjoying a cool and quiet November evening.
At the concert hall, gunfire and explosions rang out as security forces moved in on hostage takers who had stormed a performance by an American rock band.
Police said the attackers threw explosives at the hostages, in addition to opening fire on them. About 100 people were rescued when security forces stormed the building, French media reported. One official described the scene inside as “carnage.”
French television showed people evacuating the venue, walking out with their hands up. News media said the operation to secure the Bataclan theater was over and that three gunmen have been killed.
The president’s office said 1,500 French troops were deployed on the streets of Paris to back up police.
France’s BFMTV television network reported that an unknown number of attackers in Friday’s violence were still at large.
France’s deputy mayor, Patrick Klugman, said at least 118 people were killed at the concert hall alone. The final death toll was not immediately know but was expected to be considerably higher. The mayor’s office later put the toll at 140.
As the security forces began their assault on the gunmen at the theater, a Guardian journalist on the scene tweeted that medical staff were running toward it, carrying dozens of empty stretchers.
Outside a popular café, witnesses reported seeing piles of bodies in the street, the café windows having been raked with gunfire. Terrified fans stormed the soccer field after suicide bombers detonated explosives outside the stadium north of Paris.
The attacks were the worst in France in modern memory, and once again traumatized a country still reeling from three days of terror in January, when Islamist militants killed 12 people at the offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, left four hostages dead at a kosher supermarket and fatally shot a police officer.
The explosions near the soccer stadium forced authorities to evacuate President Francois Hollande, who was among thousands watching a friendly match between France and Germany.
Hollande later went on national television to announce a state of emergency, including travel restrictions and the closing of French borders. He said security forces were continuing to battle terrorists in at least one location.
“We know who these terrorists are,” he said, without elaborating. “These terrorists want to make us afraid and seize us with fear. . . . This is a nation that defends itself.”
Police said at least 15 people were killed in the Bataclan theater, where a hostage-taking was underway, and 11 were slain at a Paris restaurant in the 10th Arrondissement, the Associated Press said in an initial report. An American rock band was performing at the time of the attack.
Witnesses said three or four men clad in black used assault rifles to mow down audience members at the concert hall.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, which were nevertheless celebrated on social media linked to the Islamic State extremist group, a ruthless al-Qaeda offshoot also known as ISIS and ISIL.
Within minutes of the first reports on the violence, Islamic State supporters created hashtags hailing “Paris in flames” and declaring that “ISIS is attacking Paris,” the Vocativ Web site reported.
“O crusaders we are coming to you with bombs and rifles,” a top propagandist from an unofficial Islamic State media wing tweeted in Arabic. He ended the tweet: “Wait for us.”
In Washington, the White House said President Obama “was briefed on the situation in Paris by Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.”
A somber Obama subsequently appeared in the White House briefing room to offer condolences and U.S. help “to bring these terrorists to justice.”
He said it was not just an assault on France but “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share.” Obama added, “Those that think they can terrorize the people of France and the values they stand for are wrong.”
“We are going to do whatever it takes to work with the French people and with nations around the world to bring these terrorists to justice and to go after any terrorist networks that go after our people,” Obama said. He pledged whatever help he could provide to the French government and praised it as an “extraordinary counterterrorism partner.”
Obama, who is scheduled to leave Saturday for the Group of 20 summit in Turkey, said he spoke prior to the attacks with Hollande and plans to talk with him again in the coming days. “
“This is a heartbreaking situation, and obviously those of us in the United States know what it’s like,” he said. “We’ve gone through these kinds of episodes ourselves.”
“All of Paris needs our prayers tonight,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) tweeted.
The Washington Post’s Ryan Weber, currently in Paris, reported that some of Paris’s main Metro stations were closed down on Friday night, including the one at the Gare du Nord, one of the city’s principal train stations.
Although Paris residents were urged to stay indoors, hundreds streamed down the Boulevard Magenta waving French flags, trying to reach the Stade de France stadium to show solidarity with the victims.
Mary Lou Dorio, the mother of Julian Dorio, the drummer for Eagles of Death Metal band, told The Post that her son and other band members managed to escape the Bataclan concert hall when the attack there began. However, the fate of several crew members remains unknown, she said.
“It was awful,” the mother said. She added that her son was at a local police station, where he was able to call his wife.
“It was a bloodbath,” said Julien Pearce, a French radio reporter, in an interview with CNN. He said he was at the concert and saw three or four young men dressed in black open fire on the crowd with assault rifles, firing at random as people screamed.
“They didn’t shout anything; they didn’t say anything,” he said of the assailants. “They were just shooting [at] people.” He said he saw at least 20 bodies. “Some were dead. Others were very badly wounded,” he said. Roughly 1,000 people were attending the concert in the relatively small venue, he said.
Pearce said panicked concertgoers scrambled over the bodies of the fallen as they tried to escape. He said he managed to hide in a small room off the stage, then ran for an exit when the shooting briefly stopped as the gunmen reloaded. He said he picked up a young girl who had been shot twice in the leg and carried her into the street on his back, then put her in a taxi to be taken to a hospital. “I don’t know if she made it,” he said, noting that she was bleeding profusely. “She was collapsing.”
Pearce said friends later told him that they heard the gunmen speaking in French to each other.
A State Department official traveling with Secretary of State John F. Kerry in Vienna said he was “closely monitoring events in Paris, and our embassy there is working to account for any U.S. citizens involved.”
Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a Tweet: “The reports from Paris are harrowing. Praying for the city and families of the victims.”
Witnesses said at least three explosions were heard near the soccer stadium, two of them during the first half of the France-Germany match. Fans were barred from leaving the stadium after the match but were allowed to gather on the pitch.
“At first I had no idea what was happening; I thought it was fireworks,” a woman who gave her name as Sophie said on France 24 radio, describing the scene at La Belle Equipe restaurant, which was among several places that came under attack. “Reality came to me and all I could do was get to safety. I didn’t have the time to count bodies, but there were many. There was an American celebrating her birthday.” Sophie did not specify what happened to the American.
“The terrace was full of people; it was a very crowded bar,” she said. “I looked to my left and right. There were people crawling. . . . It was carnage from all sides.”
The French Foreign Ministry said airports would remain open and that flights and train service would continue, Reuters news agency reported.
American Airlines said Friday it was nevertheless delaying flights to Paris in response to the attacks there.
United Continental said its three scheduled flights would still depart for Paris on Friday evening from hubs in Chicago, Newark and Washington, D.C., as planned.