French president François Hollande declared a national state of emergency on Friday night after a series of what he described as “unprecedented terrorist attacks” in Paris left dozens dead.
The president, who himself was rushed away from a football match in the north of Paris when explosions were heard outside the stadium, also ordered the country’s borders closed and deployed the army to aid police in the capital.
“We know where the threat is coming from,” he said in a televised address. “We know who the terrorists are.”
Police said there had been two suicide attacks and one bombing outside the Stade de France.
Shootings at six more locations were confirmed, including restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall in the 11th arrondissement, a district on the Right Bank of the River Seine that is known for its nightlife.
“Like a battlefield”
After Hollande spoke on French television, police stormed the Bataclan where people were being held hostage. BFM TV reported that two assailants were killed in the operation. One police official said the death toll could be as high as 100.
A journalist for Europe 1 radio was inside the theater when the attack happened and said two or three gunmen fired indiscriminately into the crowd with kalashnikovs for ten to fifteen minutes.
An official told the Associated Press that the attackers had also tossed explosives into the crowd.
An eyewitness speaking to French radio said there was carnage inside. “People were lying dead on the floor, badly hurt and screaming.”
Another told Britain’s The Guardian, “It looked like a battlefield. There was blood everywhere, there were bodies everywhere.”
Le Figaro said shots were also fired at Les Halles, a largely underground shopping mall.
The left-leaning French newspaper Libération described the attacks as “acts of indistinct cruelty unleashed to inspire terror across the nation.”
The sites of the attacks were all dedicated to entertainment and friendliness and targeted purposely to signify that the French are now in danger in their everyday lives.
State of emergency
The last state of emergency was declared in 2005 when riots erupted in the largely immigrant-inhabited suburbs of Paris. But a nationwide state of emergency hasn’t been called since the Algerian Independence War ended in 1962.
The proclamation allows a curfew to be imposed and gives French authorities the right to close places of gathering and conduct searches without warrant.
The city of Paris advised its citizens on Friday to stay indoors. Metro lines were closed for a while. Many people wrote on social media that they were hiding in blacked-out restaurants and stores in the 11th arrondissement as ambulances and police cars filled the streets. Some taxis took people home for free.
The central Place de la République was evacuated.
Parisians gathered in this square in January to protest for free speech after radical Islamists had stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo that month — a satirical newspaper known for lampooning Islam — and killed most of its staff.
A Jewish supermarket in Paris was attacked at the same time.
Five months later, a radicalized French national in Lyon rammed his delivery van into a warehouse containing gas canisters, triggering an explosion, after beheading his boss and leaving the body at the site of an American-owned gas factory.
In August, tourists stopped a heavily-armed Muslim man attempting to kill passengers on the high-speed Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls had earlier said that French security services had intercepted five terror plots since the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Last week, France stepped up its involvement in the Arab-Western military effort against the self-declared Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by deploying its only aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, to the Eastern Mediterranean.
France has been carrying out airstrikes against the militant Islamist group which last year urged sympathizers in the West to “kill infidels wherever you find them.”
There have been Islamic State-linked attacks throughout Europe since.