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Friday the 13th nightmare in France: Explosions and shootings across Paris kill as many as 120

By Michael Muskal, Alexandra Zavis and Kim Willsher • Updated Nov 13, 2015 at 11:28 PM

PARIS — Gunmen turned Paris into a deadly combat zone Friday night, launching a series of explosions and shootings that resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people and led to a bold counterattack by security forces at a popular concert hall to free scores of hostages.

Officials were still trying to account for those killed during the attack at the Bataclan concert hall. Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters that the death toll in the day’s attacks at six sites in the French capital could pass 120.

At least some of the attackers were killed, but officials differed on the number. U.S. sources said four died in the theater and three of them killed themselves with suicide vests. French media put the number of assailants killed at between three and six, including at other locations. It was unclear if any attackers remained at large.

Some of the hostages recalled hearing the gunmen yelling “This is for Syria” and “God is great” before they fired. A U.S. source said the attacks have the hallmarks of an al-Qaida operation: “multiple attacks and soft targets.”

France President Francois Hollande called military reinforcements to secure the streets and put controls at the borders and declared a nationwide state of emergency. Paris will be essentially shuttered beginning Saturday with schools, museums, libraries, gyms, pools, food markets all closed and outdoor events canceled.

Officials were defiant in refusing to allow the attack to crush the city’s spirit.

“This evening is a moment of pain and mourning,” Mayor Anne Hidalgo said at a brief news conference. “But Paris is still here and standing … The joie-de-vivre that is part of this city, (the attackers) have not touched that.”

The attack by security forces capped a bloody night of terror that began about 9:20 p.m. with reports of shootings at restaurants and explosions outside a stadium where France was playing Germany in an international soccer match.

At the Bataclan, about 500 yards from where a gunman attacked a busy bar and Vietnamese restaurant, a California group called the Eagles of Death Metal were performing. The band had been on stage for about an hour when there was gunfire, panic, a stampede.

Julien Pearce, a journalist, was in the concert hall when at least two people opened fire with automatic weapons.

“It lasted at least 10, 15 minutes,” he said according to the French newspaper Le Monde. “They reloaded three or four times … When the shots stopped we took advantage of the calm to go out the emergency exits, and there we saw lots of people in the street who were covered in blood.”

Another concert-goer cited by the paper said: “I saw automatic weapons. I walked on bodies. There was blood. In the street, there were dead people.”

Residents in local apartments threw sheets to cover bodies.

The streets around the theater were sealed off and there were helicopters overhead. The area is close to the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the site of another deadly attack in January.

Hollande had been attending the soccer match and was evacuated from the packed soccer stadium in suburban Paris where explosions occurred.

“It’s a horror,” Hollande said, addressing reporters, pledging that France would stand firm and remain united. “We have mobilized all possible forces so that the terrorists can be neutralized and all the affected neighborhoods can be secured.

“There is indeed reason to be afraid,” he added. “There is terror, but there is in the face of terror a nation that knows how to defend itself, that knows how to mobilize its forces and that once again will be able to defeat the terrorists.”

In televised comments, President Barack Obama called the attacks an “outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians.”

“Those who think that they can terrorize the people of France or the values that they stand for are wrong,” Obama said. “We’re 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.”

The attacks come as Obama prepares for two trips abroad. He’s scheduled to leave Saturday for a nine-day trip to Turkey, the Philippines and Malaysia. He is then due to travel to Paris for a major summit on climate change.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama said he would not speculate about who was responsible for the violence.

One of the first attacks was at a restaurant, Le Carillon, in the city’s 10th Arrondissement where at least one gunman opened fire on patrons. Another restaurant was attacked in the 11th Arrondissment.

Alexandra Colineau parked her Autolib on the corner of Rue de Charonne and Boulevard Voltaire and walked across the street to meet her friends for dinner in the 11th Arrondissement.

Seconds later, loud popping noises tore through the sounds of chatter on the street. Colineau said she immediately stopped in her tracks. The people walking on the street near her froze too, she said, while those in nearby cafes stuck their heads out to see what was going on.

“The sound was very loud, and then I realized the back-to-back shots sounded like a Kalashnikov,” Colineau, 35, said. “It seemed like it went on for 20 seconds.”

Moments later, she said, a black car started honking to get other drivers to leave the area. Colineau reached for her phone. It was 9:39 p.m.

“I heard gunshots,” she texted her friends. “I can smell gunpowder.”

Colineau said she stood on the street for about five minutes before she ran to her friends who were waiting at a restaurant close by. As she told them what she saw, the group pulled out their cellphones to look at Twitter. That’s when they realized there were shootings at multiple locations in addition to an explosion, she said.

“Now I think I was so stupid to stand there and not run away,” Colineau said. “No one ran away … everyone stood there.”

At least two explosions were reported near the country’s main sports stadium, the Stadium de France.

Then came the concert hall attack.

Aaron Harris, in Paris with a band due to play at the hall over the weekend, was walking back from dinner with a group of friends Friday night when police sirens started blaring. At first, Harris thought nothing of it. Then he noticed police blocking off the streets.

The group rushed through Square Andre Tollet and back to their hotel, the Crowne Plaza Republique.

“Some of our friends were outside the hotel and they said there’s been a shooting,” Harris said, adding that he didn’t hear an explosion or gunshots.

Hotel employees quickly rushed the group inside, he said, where they waited in the lobby. Five people ran in about 30 minutes later, terrified. Panicked people fled to their rooms, he said. He hasn’t left his room since.

“Everyone is a little confused and upset,” said Harris, 38.

Harris, who arrived in Paris on Thursday morning, works as part of the touring crew for the Deftones. Three members from the band’s touring party attended the concert at the Bataclan, but left 15 minutes before the hostages were seized, he said. The Deftones were scheduled to play at Bataclan on Saturday night, Harris said.

“I’m obviously freaked out about that that we were scheduled to be there,” he said. “But I’m also freaked out because a good friend of mine played there this evening and I texted him. … He didn’t reply.”

France has been on edge since deadly attacks by Islamic extremists in January on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store that left 20 dead, including the three attackers. The Charlie Hebdo offices are in the same neighborhood as the Bataclan.

The latest attacks also come as France has heightened security measures ahead of the global climate conference that starts in two weeks.

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(Times staff writers Muskal and Zavis reported from Los Angeles. Special correspondent Willsher reported from Paris. Times staff writer David Ng in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

©2015 Los Angeles Times

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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