Terrorists staged multiple simultaneous attacks Friday night in Paris, killing scores of people with automatic gunfire and explosions.
At least 100 people died at a single location after gunman attacked a Paris music hall and held scores of people hostage before police stormed the building, ending the standoff.
Two attackers were among the dead. Up to a thousand people were in the audience at the Bataclan concert hall where a performance by an American band was interrupted by rapid-fire bursts from Kalashnikov automatic rifles. Many people escaped during the shootout.
President Francois Hollande said he was declaring a state of emergency and ordering France’s borders closed — an unprecedented act in 21st-century Europe. In Washington, President Barack Obama said the United States was ready to help in any way possible.
Attackers reload three times
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.
A witness inside the hall said the attackers fired into the crowd repeatedly, pausing only to reload their weapons three times. He was near an exit and managed to escape during one of those pauses.
Scores of fatalities were also reported at other parts of Paris. One of the first explosions was just outside a sports stadium where President Hollande and a large crowd were watching a football (soccer) match between the French and German national teams.
The blast was felt inside the stadium. Several other explosions took place in that area and officials say at least one may have been a suicide bombing.
Police evacuated Hollande from the stadium, but when play was stopped many people in the crowd ran onto the pitch and huddled in fear.
Restaurants and bars in a crowded central area of the French capital, near Place de la Republique, also were targeted by the attackers, who opened fire on crowds.
Hollande called an emergency Cabinet meeting at midnight after he issued his order to close all border crossings. He also canceled his trip to the G-20 meeting in Turkey scheduled to begin on Sunday.
At the White House, Obama said the coordinated attacks in Paris were an “outrageous attempt to terrorize civilians.”
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron said on Twitter, “We will do whatever we can do to help.” He said he was shocked by the events in Paris and his thoughts and prayers are with the French people.
At the United Nations, a spokesman said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “condemns the despicable terrorist attacks” and “demands the immediate release of the numerous individuals reportedly being held hostage in the Bataclan theater.”
U.S. officials said the embassy in France has been checking on the safety of all Americans in Paris. However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in the U.S. capital that there was “no specific or credible threat to the United States.”
Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told VOA the Paris attacks “all look like they were coordinated to have maximum impact, and to send a message.”
“It demonstrates that there are a lot of vulnerabilities in open societies that can be exploited by whatever terrorist groups are carrying out these actions,” Katulis said.
Friday’s spectacular assault evoked memories of an attack by Islamist gunmen in January that killed 17 people.
Paris is due to host a major international conference next month — U.N.-sponsored meetings on the global effort to control global warming.
VOA White House Correspondent Aru Pande, National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin, Luis Ramirez, Lisa Bryant from Paris, and Jamie Dettmer contributed to this report.