By Thomas Stephens
Shocked and angry, Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga has expressed her condolences and support for France after Islamic State terrorists killed at least 127 people in Paris on Friday night.
“Such attacks are attacks on the fundamental values of our society,” she said on Saturday. “What is needed now is solidarity with those who have lost friends and family and cooperation with the French authorities. In such moments people have to stand together.”
Four gunmen systematically slaughtered at least 87 young people at a rock concert at the Bataclan concert hall, according to a Paris city hall official. Anti-terrorist commandos eventually launched an assault on the building. The gunmen detonated explosive belts and dozens of shocked survivors were rescued, while bodies were still being removed on Saturday morning.
Some 40 more people were killed in five other attacks in the Paris region, the official said, including an apparent double suicide bombing outside the Stade de France national stadium, where Hollande and the German foreign minister were watching a friendly football international. Some 200 people were injured.
There are no indications that any Swiss are among the victims, according to the foreign ministry. Almost 200,000 Swiss live in France, the largest community of Swiss abroad.
The government said on Saturday that the Swiss security forces were on higher alert and that the Federal Office of Police (Fedpol), the National Intelligence Agency and the Swiss Customs Administration were working closely with the French authorities to determine whether there was a Swiss connection to the attacks.
French newspapers spoke of “carnage” and “horror” at the country’s deadliest peacetime attacks. Le Figaro’s headline said: “The war in the heart of Paris” on a black background with a picture of people being evacuated on stretchers.
In Switzerland, Le Temps in Geneva noted in an editorial that the attacks had changed in form and nature since January, when 18 people were killed in attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket in Paris.
“The bloody terrorists went for the man on the street, making no distinction between people, in order to sow real carnage at the heart of the French capital,” the paper wrote on its website on Saturday morning.
“The images broadcast on television since last night show scenes of war three hours by train from Switzerland. We know the streets, we’re worried about friends and family either living in Paris or just visiting for a few days. France has never seemed so close. Our fellow humans, our brothers and sisters have fallen under bullets.”
The paper said the terrorists “want to destroy not only such fragile humans but also our way of living together. They are sowing chaos to destroy democracy”.
Le Temps concluded: “Now is the time for unity among everyone who believes in democracy, among everyone of good will around the world and in a position of political power. In these terrible hours for France, when the state of emergency has been decreed, when the army has been mobilised in the capital, we are all French.”
“The French capital turned into a battlefield on Friday evening,” wrote the Neue Zürcher Zeitung online.
“All signs point to a meticulously planned attack. During the attack on the Bataclan one of the men is said to have shouted ‘Allah is great’. A witness added that the attackers justified their action with France’s military involvement in Syria. The man reportedly said: ‘This is Hollande’s fault. This is your president’s fault. He shouldn’t have intervened in Syria’. The attacks are being celebrated by supporters of the terrorist group IS.”
Sommaruga told Swiss public radio, SRF, that Paris was in shock but Switzerland was too, adding she felt not only immense sadness but also immense anger.
She pointed out that there was no such thing as 100% security. “That will now be a challenge for us: security is a precious asset – perhaps even the most precious asset. Without security things get difficult,” she said.
Sommaruga underlined that Switzerland had not been doing nothing but she admitted that “now we will certainly have to re-analyse the situation and see whether additional measures are necessary.” She said that in this respect cooperation with Interpol, Europol and the intelligence services were central.
Fedpol director Nicoletta della Valle said border checks on the border with France had been tightened in some places, although systematic checks were currently not necessary.
Stefan Blättler, president of the conference of police chiefs, said there would be an increased presence of police at airports, train stations, in trains and around diplomatic buildings in Bern, Geneva and Zurich.
Islamic State claim responsibility
On Saturday Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, which it said in a statement were designed to show France would remain a top target for the jihadist group as long as the country continued its current policies.
The coordinated assault came as France, a founder member of the US-led coalition waging air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, was on high alert for terrorist attacks ahead of a global climate conference due to open later this month.
Paris is expected to host 80 heads of state, including US President Barack Obama, in two weeks. In June, France is to scheduled to host the European football championships – with the Stade de France a major venue.
Also, Paris-based UNESCO is expecting world leaders on Monday for a forum about overcoming extremism. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pulled out because of Friday’s attacks. Hollande cancelled a planned trip to this weekend’s G-20 summit in Turkey.
“Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action,” he said, without saying what that meant. Hollande said he would address parliament on Monday in an extraordinary meeting and the country would observe three days of official mourning.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned “the despicable terrorist attacks” in Paris. The UN Security Council also condemned “the barbaric and cowardly terrorist attacks” and underlined the need to bring the perpetrators of “these terrorist acts to justice”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “deeply shaken by the news and pictures that are reaching us from Paris”.
In a telegram to President Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the attacks were “the latest testimonial to the barbaric essence of terrorism which throws down a challenge to human civilisation”.
“It’s obvious that an effective fight against this evil demands a real unity of the forces of the international community. I would like to confirm the readiness of Russia for the closest cooperation with our French partners in investigating the crime that took place in Paris,” he wrote.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was “deeply shocked” by the attacks and pledged solidarity with France in combating terrorism. “Terrorism is a common challenge facing humanity. China resolutely supports France in maintaining its national security and stability and in attacking terrorism,” Hong said.
President Obama called the attacks on Paris an “outrageous attempt to terrorise innocent civilians” and vowed to do whatever it takes to help bring the perpetrators to justice.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama called the attacks a “heartbreaking situation” and an “attack on all of humanity”.