Fear grips Paris as death toll rises
What do we know and what do we not know about what happened on Friday? With Europe on edge, some experts say the militants have adopted a new, frightening strategy. Is worse to come?
The mysterious bang seemed inconsequential. The players in the France v Germany football match at Paris’s Stade de France on Friday night continued to pass the ball nonchalantly. The game was only a friendly. But the sound was far scarier than they realised: it was the detonation of a suicide bomber’s vest.
The city was under attack. Within an hour, people further south were being gunned down at four bars and restaurants. ‘Unprecedented attacks are in progress in Greater Paris,’ said President Francois Hollande. ‘It’s a horror.’
Worse was about to unfold. At the Bataclan concert venue, four terrorists had taken scores of hostages. As armed police arrived, they fired their weapons indiscriminately at the crowds and blew themselves up.
By last night, as we went to press, at least 129 people had died and 352 were injured, 96 of whom were fighting for their lives. Hollande said France had suffered ‘an act of war’.
Three coordinated teams of young men from Islamic State were responsible. It was the second time this year that Paris has come under siege from jihadist terrorists, after the assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January. But the increased potency of this attack surprised experts; a former French intelligence chief pointed out that ‘suicide vests require a munitions specialist who is used to handling explosives, who knows how to make them’.
Fear gripped Europe over the weekend. France declared a state of emergency. An attacker was reportedly on the run after an abandoned car was found with Kalashnikovs in it in eastern Paris. Seven other suspects were arrested in Belgium. The North terminal of London’s Gatwick Airport was evacuated after a suspicious package was discovered. Security at national borders was tightened, and unconfirmed reports linking a Syrian passport to one of the militants led to a controversial petition calling on the UK to close its borders and refuse to admit refugees.
Some think more is to come. Attacks like this are almost impossible to stop: the jihadists just need the desire to die and as many weapons as they can carry. Islamic State has learnt from attacks such as Mumbai in 2008 and has now launched a terrifying new strategy on the streets of Europe. ‘This is the next stage in their methodology, capability and reach,’ says former US counter-terrorism official Juan Zarate.
Perhaps not, say others — we have heard that before. We were told the 9/11 attacks would be repeated several times over — perhaps with weapons of mass destruction — but 14 years later, that has not happened. Tragic though these attacks are, their real lesson is that our enemies are so weak, they are reduced to shooting people at random.
- Have the Paris attacks scared you?
- Should Europeans be worried about what might come next?
- Draw an advert for Paris’s tourist board, encouraging people to come to the city in the wake of Friday’s tragedy.
- Write a speech on behalf of Paris’s Mayor Anne Hidalgo in response to the attacks. What should the city be proud of, and how would you encourage your citizens to respond to this atrocity?
Some People Say...
“Be brave and be grateful to be alive — that’s the only way to respond”
What do you think?
Q & A
- How likely is this to come to the UK?
- The security services say that they have broken up several major plots this year and a number of people have been convicted of plotting to commit terrorist acts — for example, Brusthom Ziamani was convicted in March of preparing to behead a British soldier. There were attacks in 2005, 2007 and 2013. But most plots have been defeated so far.
- Is it normal to worry about terrorism?
- Statistically, it seems irrational to worry about terrorism if you live in the West. For example, in 2013, 1,713 people in Britain died in road traffic accidents — making it far more likely than a terrorist attack. But psychologists say worry may result from something being, for example, graphic or uncontrollable — unfortunately, both are largely true of terrorism.
- France declared three days of mourning, and a one-minute silence will be observed across Europe at 11am today.
- Islamic State
- This group now controls large parts of Syria and Iraq and has committed atrocities in several other Middle Eastern countries.
- This is an umbrella term for Islamist fighters who believe they are fighting a holy war. Islamists want to impose a politicised version of Islam, including Islamic law (known as sharia), on others — but only some Muslims are Islamists and only some Islamists are jihadists.
- Charlie Hebdo
- On 7 January, Islamist gunmen attacked the offices of this satirical newspaper and murdered 12 people. In the following two days they killed a policewoman and four more hostages after targeting sites popular with Jewish people.
- This attack lasted for over three days in November 2008 and left 164 people dead. Islamic militant group Lashkar e-Taiba, who were opposed to Indian rule in disputed areas and wanted to spread Islamism in south Asia, carried out the attack. Its targets included a train station, a hospital and two hotels.