Three days of gunshots, killings, car chases and, as of today, hostage-taking and police raids are putting Parisians on the edge.
Police raided two sites around Paris where gunmen were holding people hostage, killing the two suspects in the massacre of 12 people at Charlie Hebdo magazine and liberating the hostage they were holding north of the airport. At the second site, a kosher store called Hyper Cacher near the eastern Porte de Vincennes, a simultaneous police raid killed the gunman. Four hostages also died, President Francois Hollande said.
The killings of the Charlie Hebdo victims “are acts of war,” said Lisa, who would only give her first name. “We’ve got lots of apprehension. All my colleagues would like to stay home if they could, but we’re forced to go out.” The 55-year-old works for a luxury brand at the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris’s touristy Opera district.
While Parisians are trying to go about their lives and politicians are calling for calm, signs of the French capital’s battle against terror are everywhere -- from the sirens sounding throughout the city to the large presence of uniformed and armed security officers. The greater Paris area has 9,600 police and soldiers posted at train stations, schools and landmarks.
Police today ordered the closure of kosher shops. Three Metro stops near Vincennes, just outside the city limits, were shut, as was that section of the busy ring road. Near where the hostage-takers were barricaded inside the store, Menad Taberkane, a barkeeper at Le Metro on Cours de Vincennes, said he’d never seen anything like it.
“This is a quiet neighborhood, we never have problems,” he said. “It makes you scared to go to work.”
Especially frightening was the fact that the suspects are heavily armed and have a history of involvement with Islamist groups. Nor are they all accounted for: a third member of the Charlie Hebdo killers hasn’t been definitely identified. Nine people are in police custody in that case.
People are led away from the scene as Police mobilize following reports of a hostage situation at Port de Vincennes in Paris, today.
French police said the hostage-taker in Vincennes was the same person who had killed a police officer south of Paris yesterday, though the woman with him hasn’t been located. The man, Amedy Coulibaly, had ties to the Charlie Hebdo suspects, Cherif Kouachi, 32, and his brother Said Kouachi, 34.
Cherif was sentenced to three years in prison for intent to commit a terrorist attack. Said has a past involvement with al-Qaeda’s network in Yemen, a police official said.
The brothers had been holed up in a building in Dammartin-en-Goele, eight miles from Charles de Gaulle airport, surrounded by France’s anti-terror forces. The area was cordoned off and schoolchildren were evacuated even before the sound of gunfire and explosions rang out in late afternoon.
About 300 students and teachers at the primary school, Le Verger des Tuileries, were told to lie down on the floor in the hallways, said teacher Julie Caron, a relative of Caroline Connan of Bloomberg TV. She said parents trying to take their children home were being turned away during the lockdown.
“It’s been very unnerving,” said a woman who gave her name as Francine and said her 13-year-old son had been evacuated from a middle school in the area. “I’ve had no contact with my son and no contact from the school. I’m not worried, look at all these police. But it’s not easy.”
Worries abounded in the Goutte d’Or, or Golden Drop, neighborhood in northern Paris, home to many of the city’s Muslims as well as people with roots in a variety of African countries.
With the suspects in both murders reportedly tied to the same jihadist cell, security at the neighborhood’s mosque was raised and bags were being searched before Friday prayers.
Traffic passes near Hyper Cacher kosher store near Porte de Vincennes, eastern Paris.
“There are incidents happening all over,” said Reda Laridi, 40, as he sipped coffee in a cafe on the crowded rue des Poissonniers. “It’s the day when the Muslims form a crowd, a good target for a Molotov.”
This week, a shot was fired at a mosque in the western city of Le Mans and four makeshift grenades thrown into its courtyard.
“We remain extremely mobilized in an unprecedented situation to ensure the security of all the French,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters near the Porte de Vincennes hostage-taking site, after the raids.
In other parts of Paris, life went on as usual. At the Eiffel Tower, about 200 people were lined up to enter, about the usual number. Lights on the tower were turned off yesterday in homage to the shooting victims.
Even before the shootout at Vincennes, retailers including Carrefour SA, France’s biggest, and Galeries Lafayette were beefing up security at stores, officials at the companies said. They declined to comment on what impact the killings were having on their businesses.
The Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau said on its website that every effort will be made to ensure the safety of visitors to the city. Veronique Potelet Anty, a spokeswoman for the bureau, said it hasn’t received any feedback from tourism professionals regarding cancellations.
Trevor Whaller, 50, a retiree from Hull in England, arrived by Eurostar yesterday with his partner.
“It was worrying,” he said in front of the Galeries Lafayette store. “But we just went on with our life. You can’t stop living. You can’t, yeah?”