Death toll surges to 129 in Paris gunfire and blasts

France has decided to close its borders, declare a nation-wide state of emergency, and deploy its army in and around Paris

Asma Ajroudi

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France has decided to close its borders, declare a nation-wide state of emergency, and deploy its army in and around Paris after at least 129 people were killed, according to President Francois Hollande, as multiple shootings, a 100-person hostage crisis, and explosions rocked the French capital late on Friday.

The drastic measures were announced by the French president who made a televised address late on Friday evening, just minutes before midnight.

The attack is believed to be the biggest to take place in a France's history.

A total of eight militants were killed, including seven by their suicide belts, during Friday's attacks, a source close to the investigation told Agence France-Presse.

Hollande and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama vowed to reinforce their counter-terrorism cooperation following Friday's attack.

"Barack Obama wanted to express his support to the French people in the face of this terrible tragedy," said the source. "They reaffirmed their commitment to working closely in the fight against terrorism."

One of the attacks took place at the Bataclan concert hall where nearly 100 people had been held hostage at the venue. Police reprtedly stormed the hall after it had been taken seige an uncertain number of gunmen.

They later reported that four of the attackers were killed at the convert hall venue, including three who died immediately after activating their explosive belts. Three more died in other attacks near the national stadium and a fourth was killed in a street in eastern Paris.

"Three of them blew themselves up and a fourth, who was also wearing a belt, was hit by police fire and blew up as he fell," one source told the AFP news agency.

According to a witness, one attacker in the concert hall had shouted "Allahu akbar," meaning "God is great" in Arabic, and fired into the crowd.

An Al Arabiya News correspondent quoted witnesses at the Bataclan hall saying that the gunmen had allegedly said: "What we’ve done was in response to your actions in Syria."

A statement from Hollande's office early on Saturday said that 1,500 additional troops had been deployed to Paris after the attacks. Visibly shaken, Hollande announced that France is now "waging a merciless war against terrorism" in response to the simultaneous that rocked its capital city.

At another attack at the Stade de France stadium, footage reportedly shot at the football game between France and Germany appeared to show the moment when a bomb went off. Police say that at least one suicide bomber had detonated a bomb outside the stadium.

Another shooting at the Central Les Halles shopping mall was also reported to have taken place but further information on that attack is currently unavailable.

In another seperate attack at a Cambodian restaurant called Petit Cambodge, not far from the Bataclan venue in northeast Paris, Kalashnikov-wielding gunmen opened fire on diners. Photographs taken at the scene show several bodies lying on the ground.

Alex Olley, who was at the football match at the Stade de Paris, told Al Arabiya News that he heard five explosions near the stadium. He initially thought they were fireworks.

Madeleine Wills, an Australian student based in central Paris, near the site of one of the shootings, told Al Arabiya News that “police were pushing everyone back really quickly” soon after the attacks happened. “Everybody was freaking out.”

The shock attacks have prompted an emergency meeting by French government ministers while the Paris municipality has asked Parisians to stay home.

Despite a country-wide lockdown, French airports and train stations will continue to operate, the interior ministry said.

At the Paris stadium, President Francois Hollande had to be evacuated as he was attending the match between France and Germany, Al Arabiya News Channel correspondent reported.

It is not immediately clear whether the attacks were coordinated, or what group is responsible, but U.S. security officials believe that the attacks were organized. The United Nations and world leaders alike have condemned the attacks overnight.

Hisham Melhem, an analyst for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, said what Friday night’s attacks were the “bloodiest” in France’s recent history.

Melhem said if the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) proved to be behind the attacks, especially after it claimed responsibility for the recently downed Russian plane in Egypt as well as other attacks in Iraq and Lebanon's capital city of Lebanon, then “what the U.S. says that it succeeded against ISIS it is too early.”

He added: “If ISIS is behind it, then it means there are gaps in the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”

Paris-based analyst Khattar Abu Diyab told Al Arabiya News Channel it was a “difficult” and “unprecedented” night for France.

“It was the biggest attack against a Western country since decades, since 9/11,” he said.

Abu Diyab said while France on alert, it did not “expect” such magnitude of attacks. “It really shows that France is targeted.”

The attacks, whose motive are not immediately made clear, came less than a year after radical gunmen killed 17 people in the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket attacks.

French authorities have been on high alert since the January attacks, and the country has been named as a priority target by ISIS militants.

(Additional reporting by Dina al-Shibeeb and Paul Crompton in Dubai)

(With Reuters and AFP)