The violence recalled the terror that rattled France in January, when radicalized attackers killed 12 people at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and four more at a kosher grocery store, stirring fears of more unpredictable, lone-wolf attacks claimed by groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This time, the danger was over much faster than in January, when an intense manhunt across Paris and its suburbs had the country on edge for two days. Authorities on Saturday said all eight attackers suspected in Friday night’s attacks were dead, with seven detonating suicide vests and an eighth killed in an exchange of fire with police at the Bataclan.
Still, fear and grief gripped Parisians on Saturday as they tried to comprehend why their city was targeted once again, this time by the worst attacks Europe has seen since at least 2004. French authorities were quick to blame the attacks on ISIL, which later claimed responsibility. In a televised address late Friday, President François Hollande called the attacks an “act of war” and prompted swift revenge. He announced France’s first state of emergency since the Algerian war, closing borders and public buildings until further notice and urging people in Paris to stay home.
But by midday Saturday, the mood on the street in the city was shifting more toward bewilderment than panic. Even shell-shocked Parisians like Kazazian were out and about, with many stores and restaurants open for business and public transportation largely up and running. Some shopkeepers in the 10th and 11th arrondissements, where most of the attacks took place, expressed a sense of defiance, insisting that shuttering their stores would be letting the terrorists win. Others simply said that, with the attackers now dead, they saw little reason to change their daily routines — and besides, people needed places to gather and talk after national tragedy.
“We stayed open … so people could come in, use the bathroom, have a coffee,” said Sharon Kheloui, who with her husband runs A la Folie, a bar just across the Square du Bataclan from the concert hall. Kheloui reopened A la Folie by noon on Saturday, even though she had been up until 2:30 a.m. making food for a petrified couple who had fled the scene of the attack and stumbled upon her door. “There were people who were leaving the Bataclan, the survivors, looking for their parents or for taxis," she said. "Everything was blocked, so the only way to exit was to pass by here. We could see in the cars the people inside. Their faces — everyone was shocked.”
Kheloui asked a question that has been on everyone’s lips: Why did this happen here? “Is it not secure? Is it an easy target?” She recalls the anxiety she felt when her son was sent home from school early that Wednesday in January after gunmen raided the Charlie Hebdo offices just a few blocks from her home. “I didn’t understand how that happened, and now here it happens again.”
ISIL, meanwhile, has warned of more attacks. In a statement, the group said its fighters, strapped into suicide belts and wielding machine guns, had carefully studied their targets and planned the attacks long in advance. The assault was framed as retaliation against France for its military intervention against ISIL’s heartland in Syria and Iraq and promised that France would remain a priority target for the group until its airstrikes cease.
French media, for their part, have been quick to proliferate Hollande’s characterization that the "war" with ISIL had arrived on French soil. La Libération splashed with “This time, it’s war.” Le Figaro called it “War in the heart of Paris.” Television channels have kept rolling with nonstop coverage of the investigation into the attackers’ identities and accomplices, most of which remain unknown, breaking away only to cover memorials in cities around the world.
“It does feel like we’re at war,” said Adel, the Syrian-French owner of a bar and music cafe tucked on a side street close to Le Carillon, who was raising his metal grate at around 1 p.m. on Saturday. “I’m profoundly sad about what happened,” said Adel, who moved to France from his native Aleppo in 1988 to open Chez Adel. He did not offer his last name. “It’s frightening. Everyone is scared … but if it’s possible to stay open and it makes people happy, why not stay open?”