French police search for clues after attacks kill more than 120 in Paris

At least eight assailants execute string of bombing and shooting attacks targeting stadium, concert hall and restaurants

French police on Saturday hunted possible accomplices of eight assailants who terrorized Paris concert-goers, cafe diners and soccer fans the night before with a coordinated string of suicide bombings and shootings that killed more than 120 people and injured 200 others, many critically.

The violence, which occurred 11 months after gunmen linked to Al-Qaeda carried out a deadly attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, was one of the worst atrocities to strike the French capital in recent memory.

Three suicide bombers targeted a bar area near the Stade de France during a soccer match, attended by French President François Hollande, as a hostage crisis, which has since concluded, unfolded at a concert hall. There were also shootings and explosions near restaurants and bars in the city’s 10th and 11th arrondissements, near the center of the city.

The perpetrators remain a mystery — their nationalities, their motives, even their exact number. However, eyewitnesses told Al Jazeera that some attackers were heard shouting “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for "God is great," during the melee.

A witness told Al Jazeera that several men entered the Bataclan concert hall and started firing into the air. An American band called Eagles of Death Metal was playing to a packed crowd of close to 1,000 people.

Attackers held as many as 100 hostages for several hours at the concert hall until French security forces raided the venue and defeated the hostage takers, who were reportedly executing people inside. 

Four attackers were killed at Bataclan, three of which detonated explosive vests they were wearing, officials said. Police shot and killed the fourth.

An Al Jazeera reporter described seeing "piles" of stretchers being taken into the concert hall. At least 80 people were killed at the venue, according to police.

Hollande, who was evacuated from the stadium, went to Bataclan to monitor the situation, along with Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, according to French newspaper Le Figaro.

The government deployed 1,500 soldiers around Paris, and officials were discussing response strategies in the coming days as the investigation into the attacks develops.

A manhunt is underway for gunmen who fled the scene of shooting attacks. French police instructed city residents to remain indoors until all the assailants are captured. All schools and public services have been shut down and will remain closed on Saturday, officials said.

BFM television said several people were killed in the restaurant shootings. A journalist on the scene from broadcaster France 24 said he saw bodies on the ground outside.

An hour after reports of the first attacks, several French news outlets reported another shooting near the Les Halles shopping center and the Louvre museum. An attacker also detonated a suicide vest on Boulevard Voltaire in eastern Paris.

Shortly afterward, Hollande declared a state of emergency across France and closed its borders. 

“This is a horrible ordeal that, once again, assails us,” he said. “Faced with terrorism, France needs to be strong.” French media noted that it was unusual for a French president to make such statements while many things are yet unclear.

U.S. President Barack Obama gave a brief statement to reporters Friday evening at the White House. "Once again, we've seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians," he said.

"We stand prepared and ready to provide whatever assistance that the government and the people of France need," he said, and he pledged to "bring these terrorists to justice and go after any terrorist networks" involved.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson also issued a statement saying that the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation are not aware of "specific or credible threats of an attack on the U.S. homeland of the type that occurred in Paris tonight" but that they were working with local law enforcement officials to ensure the public’s safety.

U.S. Capitol police said they were monitoring events in Paris and had enhanced patrols throughout Capitol Hill "out of an abundance of caution."

American Airlines on Friday evening suspended all flights to Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport and is "awaiting additional information," an airline spokesman told Le Figaro. 

After the attacks, witnesses described scenes of fear and confusion in neighborhoods that are popular with young people and tourists and are packed on a Friday night.

"I was in the restaurant when the gunshots were heard. We fell to the floor with all the other diners. I didn’t see any gunmen. I was just looking at the floor," said Charlie Brehaut. "I saw a woman who was lying next to me, and I realized she had been fatally wounded in the chest, and there were a few more casualties."

Madeline Barry, who was at a different restaurant, told Al Jazeera that shortly after the attack, patrons filed out of the dining area into a courtyard.

"People are calling their families, trying to understand what is going on," she said. "There is a heavy police presence on the street."

Nick Holden, dining at a restaurant in central Paris, told Al Jazeera what he saw in the first moments after the shootings.

"A lady came in crying. We assumed some sort of domestic dispute, and someone said she had seen someone shot," he said. "We couldn't believe what was said until we heard the sirens and people started to run, and that’s what we did."

Parisians have been on edge since January, when two gunmen affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people, including much of the weekly's editorial staff and three police officers.

The assault on Charlie Hebdo was the beginning of three days of violence in the French capital, as a third gunman, in apparent coordination with the other attackers, shot and killed a policewoman and took several hostages at a kosher grocery store. All three gunmen were eventually killed by French security forces; four hostages were also killed in a police raid on the grocery store.

With wire services

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