By Ranvir Nayar
Paris, Nov 14 (IANS) At least 127 people were killed and many critically injured as eight terrorists armed with automatics and in suicide vests unleashed Mumbai-style mayhem in six crowded parts of Paris, shocking the world and drawing international condemnation.
For the first time since World War II, curfew was imposed in Paris and President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and vowed to hit back as the killers targeted crowded theatres, cafes and tourist spots in near simultaneous attacks on Friday night. All entry and exit points in France, normally open, are being controlled.
“Faced with terror, France must be strong,” a shaken Hollande said on television as the enormity of the carnage sunk in, adding “we will be.” France “knows how to defend itself, knows how to mobilize its forces and, once again, will defeat the terrorists”.
Hollande, who called the terror attack “an act of war”, put the death toll at 127 although initial reports had said more than 150 were killed.
The bloodbath appeared to be linked to the Islamic State, whose bases in Syria have been bombed by France since September. “This is for Syria!” shouted one of the attackers as he sprayed bullets.
This week, France, a member of the US-led coalition combating the Islamic State, struck the group’s strategic targets in Syria.
The audacious terrorists – all eight of whom were killed – also targeted the Stade de France stadium where President Hollande was among the thousands viewing a France-Germany soccer match. He was quickly evacuated.
At the stadium, people heard two big bangs outside in the first half of the match and a smaller one in the second half.
Elsewhere, the scenes were bloody.
One witness said the killers didn’t wear masks, looked young and were a determined lot — ready to kill and die.
The most horrific attack took place at the nearly 150-year-old Bataclan theatre where the terrorists burst in when rock band Eagles of the Death Metal was playing, ordered everyone to lie down and then began spraying bullets.
A journalist who was at the venue said the gunmen reloaded their automatics at least thrice, took people hostages and, as security forces stormed the hall, exploded themselves, killing over 100 civilians.
BBC quoted journalist Julien Pierce as saying: “Several armed men came in. Two or three men, not wearing masks, had what looked like Kalashnikovs and fired blindly on the crowd.
“It lasted between 10 to 15 minutes. It was extremely violent and there was panic. The attackers had enough time to reload at least three times. They were very young… There were bodies everywhere.”
Hollande visited the bloodied concert hall and vowed revenge. The terrorists, he announced, would be fought “without mercy”, BBC and French media reported. “It’s horror,” he said.
It was the worst violent attack in Paris since World War II.
Customers were singled out at a pizza restaurant, a Cambodian restaurant, a bar and a McDonalds outlet.
Ben Grant, who was with his wife at a bar that was attacked, said they heard gunshots and saw people dropping to the ground. “There are lots of dead people. It was pretty horrific… We put a table over our heads to protect us.
On Saturday morning, French security forces announced that all the attackers were dead — one gunned down and seven others blowing themselves up. A hunt was on for possible accomplices.
Paris residents were told to stay indoors as the city swarmed with soldiers. Ambulances with sirens wailing rushed the injured to hospitals.
There was no report of any Indian casualty, the Indian embassy’s Deputy Chief Manish Prabhat said. But he added his staff had not been able to go out due to security restrictions. Paris is home to some 100,000 Indians.
US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon led the international community in denouncing the mindless violence.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now in Britain, described the attack as “anguishing and dreadful” and said New Delhi stood with the people of France at this tragic hour.
President Pranab Mukherjee added: “Strongly condemn terrorist attacks in Paris. India stands firmly with France, my heart goes out to its people.”
(Ranvir Nayar can be contacted at email@example.com)