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|France in state of emergency as authorities hunt possible Paris
Parisians awoke Saturday morning to a city on lockdown hours after eight terrorists wielding AK-47s and wearing suicide belts carried out coordinated attacks at six sites around the French capital, killing at least 120 people and wounding at least 200 others in the city's deadliest day since World War II.
The violence was the worst terror attack to befall a Western European city since 191 people were killed in a series of train bombings in Madrid, Spain on March 11, 2004.
The most horrifying scene took place at the Bataclan concert hall in the center of Paris, where authorities said four attackers sprayed bullets into a crowd watching a performance by the American rock band Eagles of Death Metal. Reuters reported that the latest estimate from a Paris city hall official was that at least 87 people had died at the venue, though earlier reports suggested that as many as 118 concert-goers were killed.
The bloodshed prompted French President Francois Hollande to declare a state of emergency and announced renewed border checks along frontiers that are normally open under Europe's free-travel zone. Hollande convened a special security meeting Saturday morning after vowing to be "merciless" with the nation's foes following what he called unprecedented terrorist attacks.
"A determined France, a united France, a France that joins together and a France that will not allow itself to be staggered even if today, there is infinite emotion faced with this disaster, this tragedy, which is an abomination, because it is barbarism," Hollande said.
French police said early Saturday they believed all of the attackers were dead but they were still searching for possible accomplices. The French prosecutor's office said seven of the eight assailants died in suicide bombings, the Associated Press reported.
In addition to the exact death toll, much about the attackers remains unknown, including their nationality and their motives. No terror group had claimed responsibility for the attack as of early Saturday, though several social media accounts associated with the ISIS terror group posted messages celebrating the carnage.
The uncertain atmosphere was heightened by the city's announcement late Friday that many of its public places would be closed Saturday. The city's official Twitter account posted a message saying "schools, museums, libraries, gyms, swimming pools, [and] public markets" would be among the metropolitan amenities shut down.
Agence France Presse, citing a security source, reported that 80 of the wounded were "seriously injured" in the attacks.
The near-simultaneous assaults began at approximately 9:30 p.m. local time Friday (3:30 p.m. EST), when gunfire exploded outside of a restaurant in a trendy area east of the center of Paris known as Little Cambodia. It was the first of a series of attacks on a string of popular cafes, crowded on the unusually balmy Friday night. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters at least 37 people were killed in those shootings.
“There are lots of dead people," said a witness believed to have been at the bar of a restaurant that was the scene of one attack. "It’s pretty horrific to be honest. I was at the back of the bar. I couldn’t see anything. I heard gunshots. People dropped to the ground. We put a table over our heads to protect us.
A few moments later, three suicide bombs targeted locations around the Stade de France, the country's national stadium in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, where Hollande had joined almost 80,000 soccer fans to watch an international soccer friendly between France and Germany. A police union official told the Associated Press that at least three people were killed as a result of those blasts.
Hollande was rushed from the stadium after the first explosion, as initial reports of the attacks trickled in. However, despite the explosions being audible on television, the match was not stopped and several thousand fans went onto the field after France's 2-0 win, apparently believing it was the safest place in the midst of the unfolding terror. Supporters were eventually allowed to leave the stadium in small groups, and some were caught on video singing France's national anthem as they left the venue.
Four attackers then stormed the Bataclan, where concertgoers described a horrifying scene. Witnesses said the attackers toted Kalashnikovs and wore flak jackets as they fired indiscriminately into the crowd. Some survivors claimed the men shouted "Allahu Akbar" or "This is for Syria" as they fired.
“It looked like a battlefield, there was blood everywhere, there were bodies everywhere," Marc Coupris told the Guardian newspaper after being freed from the hostage situation. "I was at the far side of the hall when shooting began. There seemed to be at least two gunmen. They shot from the balcony.
“I saw my final hour unfurl before me, I thought this was the end. I thought, 'I’m finished, I’m finished,'" he said.
Sylvain, 38, collapsed in tears as he recounted the attack, the chaos, and his escape during a lull in gunfire. He spoke on condition that his full name not be used out of concern for his safety.
"I was watching the concert in the pit, in the midst of the mass of the audience," he told the Associated Press. "First I heard explosions, and I thought it was firecrackers."
"Very soon I smelled powder, and I understood what was happening. There were shots everywhere, in waves. I lay down on the floor. I saw at least two shooters, but I heard others talk. They cried, 'It's Hollande's fault.' I heard one of the shooters shout, 'Allahu Akbar,'" Sylvian told The Associated Press.
He was among dozens of survivors offered counseling and blankets in a municipal building set up as a crisis center.
The carnage inside the music venue ended around midnight local time when French police stormed the building. As police closed in, three detonated explosive belts, killing themselves, according to Paris police chief Michel Cadot. Another attacker detonated a suicide bomb on Boulevard Voltaire, near the music hall, the prosecutor's office said.
A U.S. military and intelligence source told Fox News the coordinated attacks likely required "months of planning," based on their sheer number, the locations including a site where the president was present and the variety of weapons used.
Asked if any Americans were hurt or killed, a French diplomat told Fox News that given the venues and the numbers involved, the victims “are not going to be all French.” The State Department said it was seeking to establish the whereabouts of 70 U.S. citizens known to be in France, but had not received word that any Americans had been killed in the attacks.
President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters in Washington, decried an "attack on all humanity," calling the Paris violence an "outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians."
"This is an attack not just on Paris, not just on France, but an attack on all of humanity and the values that we share," Obama said.
A U.S. official briefed by the Justice Department says intelligence officials were not aware of any threats before Friday's attacks.
The violence raises questions about security for the millions of tourists who come to Paris — and for world events the French capital routinely hosts.
Some 80 heads of state, including possibly Obama, are expected for a critical climate summit in two weeks. In June, France is to host the European soccer championship — with the Stade de France a major venue.
And Paris-based UNESCO is expecting world leaders Monday for a forum about overcoming extremism. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani canceled a trip because of Friday's attacks. Hollande canceled a planned trip to this weekend's G-20 summit in Turkey.
The attacks spanned at least two Paris districts, the 10th and 11th arrondisements. The 10th arrondisement is a cosmopolitan district lined with restaurants and cafes. It also is the location of the two famed train stations Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est. The 11th arrondissement is located on the Right Bank of the River Seine and is one of the capital’s most populated urban districts, with nearly 150,000 residents. In recent years it also has emerged as one of the trendiest of the city's neighborhoods.
Terror struck in Paris near the same neighborhood earlier this year, when two Islamic radical gunmen stormed the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 and wounding 11. The gunmen, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, struck to avenge Muslims for the magazine’s publication of cartoons that they believed mocked the Prophet Mohammed. The brothers were killed two days later after a manhunt was capped when police shot the two in a standoff in Dammartin-en-Goele.
During the dragnet, Amedy Coulibaly, an associate of the pair, attacked a Jewish grocery store in Paris, taking more than a dozen hostage and killing four. Coulibaly had killed a policewoman the day before. Couliably was killed when police stormed the kosher market.
Fox News Channel's Catherine Herridge, James Rosen and The Associated Press contributed to this report
Europe is in crisis: this is no time for petty-mindedness
Timothy Garton Ash
Ask not what Britain can do for Europe. Ask what Europe can do for Britain!” Thus David Cameron’s bathetic inversion of John F Kennedy’s famous rhetorical trope. This at a time when the European Union faces one of the largest challenges in its history, with its nations staggering under the burden of desperate migrants from the Middle East and Africa.
It was actually a rather moderate mishmash of negotiating demands that Cameron presented in his letter to the European council president, Donald Tusk, this Tuesday, and some of them could help the EU perform better. The trouble is the context, the sense that the UK is only looking to its own narrow interests – its entire policy dictated by pressure from Eurosceptics at home, while the rest of Europe faces this existential crisis. To win maximum support from his European partners, Cameron needs to show them that he cares about the fate of Europe, not just of Britain; but that is precisely what his Eurosceptic backbenchers, and the Eurosceptic press, frighten him away from doing. Here is Cameron’s European catch-22.
Let’s start with the “Dear Donald” letter and its four main points. Two of them, on “economic governance” and “competitiveness”, are entirely sensible; the third, on “sovereignty”, has half a point; while that on “immigration” spoils a serious argument by tying it to one parochial demand for reducing in-work benefits for the mainly eastern European migrant workers in Britain.
It is right that there need to be clear arrangements for relations between the currently 19 member states inside the eurozone and the nine outside, especially if the eurozone takes the necessary further steps to banking and fiscal integration. It’s also right that the EU could improve “competitiveness” – which should also mean jobs – by cutting red tape and creating a digital and financial single market. Mario Monti, the distinguished Italian economist and European, has been saying this for years.
The section on “sovereignty” is a funny old mix. There are several other member states who think there should be more subsidiarity and a larger role for national parliaments, but this can’t be done just for Britain, and in a few months. As for a “formal, legally binding and irreversible” guarantee that the UK is not committed to “ever closer union”, this is such a weirdly un-British, un-pragmatic, purely symbolic gesture to insist on.
Finally, what he says on immigration raises a big, important question – the impact of the free movement of EU citizens on poorer eastern and southern European countries, which have haemorrhaged millions of their most energetic young people – but then reduces it to a petty, discriminatory proposal about in-work benefits.
What a strange ragbag this is. It’s like a wife telling her husband that they will have to divorce unless the following demands are met: we must do a loft conversion; I no longer need to say “till death us do part”; the Polish au pair must stop using the spare bedroom; and you must put out the rubbish bins on Thursday.
“Is that it?” indignantly exclaimed a leading Conservative Eurosceptic, Bernard Jenkin, when Cameron’s demands were announced, and I understand what he means. The truth is, of course, that this is not “it”. “It” is the larger national interest in remaining in the EU, which Cameron spelt out eloquently at the end of his Bloomberg speech announcing the referendum three years ago.
Obviously the negotiation does matter for selling a yes vote to the great British public. So far, the reaction on the continent has been relatively calm – apart from the odd German politician muttering that Britain will get no “extra sausages”, and an almost universal consensus that the basic EU principle of non-discrimination cannot be bent just for one country’s in-work benefits system. If you want to get a sense of where other countries stand on each area, look at the coloured heatmap produced by the thinktank Open Europe.
Over the next few months, anyone who is not a Euro-geek will be bored to tears by every twist and turn of the negotiations. At the end of the day, and preferably sooner rather than later, these talks will produce a small assortment of Brussels fudge, wrapped up in a large cardboard box, decorated with a giant coloured ribbon. The PR specialist Cameron will then have to sell that box of fudge to the British people, but what we Brits will actually be voting on will be our long-term national interest and place in the world.
British opinion is genuinely divided and referendums are risky things, because people often don’t answer the question on the paper; but I’m quietly confident that the Brits will vote to stay in. Many British pro-EU friends say, “That won’t resolve anything”, but I disagree. Sure, the Eurosceptics will go on being Eurosceptics, just as I will go on being pro-EU if the referendum goes the other way, but this popular vote will decide the issue for at least a decade and probably for a generation.
If Britain is to stay in, then it has a vital national interest in ensuring that the EU does as well as possible. And let’s be under no illusion: Europe is in a bad way. A senior figure in the EU told me the other day he thought that if Germany felt compelled to close its frontiers to refugees, there would be war in the Balkans. Slovenia would close its frontier (a razor-wire fence is already being built), Croatia would push the refugees back to Serbia, Serbia might send those troublesome Muslims to Bosnia, and you can imagine the rest. And that’s just one aspect of the European crisis: there’s still the eurozone, and the rise of Eurosceptic nationalism even in core western European states.
I wonder how many people paused to reflect on the date at the top of Cameron’s letter to Tusk: 10 November. That comes between 9 November, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and 11 November, when we remember the dead of several wars in which the British did their bit to restore peace and freedom to Europe.
Are we really so wrapped up in our Westminster kitchen squabble about “Europe” that we can’t see what is happening in the real Europe just outside the front door? It’s perfectly legitimate to ask, “What can Europe do for us?” Every member state does the same. But most of them also ask, “What can we do for Europe?” – or at least, they recognise that they should be asking that, because we are all in the same boat, now storm-tossed and leaking.
So it is time we had some more of “What can Britain do for Europe?” Hearing British leaders speak in that way may also incline our European partners to be a little more generous on the niggly specifics of the British negotiation. And after all, the Battle of Britain was also a battle for Europe.
Angela Merkel's future under scrutiny for the first time as German asylum process criticized
by Justin Huggler
A popular talk show the possibility of a coup against the German chancellor after her own party made implicit criticisms of her policy.
Angela Merkel’s political future is being questioned for the first time in Germany as divisions continue to grow in her government over her “open-door” refugee policy.
Guests on a popular television political talk show debated the possibility of a coup against the German chancellor from within her own party.
The discussion came as civil servants at the government refugee agency warned identity checks for Syrian asylum-seekers were ineffective and open to abuse by economic migrants and terrorists.
Wolfgang Schäuble, the finance minister, warned that Germany was facing an “avalanche” of refugees set off by a “careless skier”.
And Thomas de Maiziere, the interior minister, twice acted unilaterally to introduce stricter controls on Syrian asylum-seekers without informing Mrs Merkel.
But other guests on the television show were dismissive of the possibility of an internal party coup against the chancellor.
“Anyone who tries to overthrow some one like her will destroy himself,” Karl-Rudolf Korte, a political scientist at the University of Duisberg-Essen, said, adding that she was protected by an “armour of popularity”.
But he added: “The situation is not flattering for the chancellor, a loss of power is quite evident”.
Peter Altmaier, Mrs Merkel’s national refugee coordinator and the head of her chancellery office, tried to downplay the disputes with Mr de Maiziere as a “communication misunderstanding”.
“It is clear there are a lot of discussions over this issue,” he told the talk show. “I hope that we can discuss this internally and behind closed doors. However it is vital that we act as one – as we do.”
Mr Schäuble has come under fire for his intervention from coalition partners, and from Joachim Gauck, the country’s usually non-political president.
Mr Gauck broke with protocol to warn against those who “voice assumptions and perpetuate stereotypes”, in remarks widely seen as directed at the finance minister.
Mrs Merkel came under intense questioning in a special half-hour interview on ZDF television entitiled What Now, Mrs Merkel? on Friday evening.
In the interview, she vowed to continue her “open-door” refugee policy: “It is our principle to help people in need,” the German chancellor said. “We need to show the freedoms we enjoy in practice and help those in need.”
Mrs Merkel dismissed claims that her government was in crisis at the end of a week that has seen two of her most senior ministers openly challenge her refugee policy.
“The chancellor has the situation under the control, the federal government has the situation under control,” she said.
“I am sure that we will continue to show a friendly face. That is my sort of welcoming culture.”
But she refused to give way on her insistence that Germany can handle a record influx of some 800,000 asylum-seekers this year.
Asked about her earlier slogan of “We can do it”, she replied: “I think we have to work to make sure we can do it, and I believe we can do it.”
She refused to set a limit for the number of refugees Germany could take in.
“I cannot unilaterally define a limits,” she said. “We in Germany cannot simply determine unilaterally who can come and who cannot.”
Mrs Merkel refused the discuss the alleged rebellion. “Wolfgang Schäuble is in a class of his own,” she said enigmatically.
The chancellor admitted she had made mistakes in the past and said it was up to her to reduce the numbers of asylum-seekers and to crack down on illegal immigration.
But she vowed Germany would continue to open its doors to genuine refugees.
“I’m not the first chancellor to fight for something,” she said, comparing her situation to that of Helmut Kohl, the chancellor who oversaw the reunification of Germany.
She was critical of Germany’s European partners, saying she regretted the EU had not been able to come up with a common solution.
She compared the numbers arriving in Europe to the more than two million Syrian refugees Turkey has taken in, including some 900,000 children.
“We are a much richer continent than Turkey, I think it’s obvious,” she said. “We talk about human dignity, then we say we have be careful about refugees.”
While ministers argue, civil servants at the federal office for migration and refugees have published an open letter warning of serious flaws in procedures.
Asylum-seekers are being accepted as Syrians without being asked for any proof of their nationality, they warned.
Those claiming to be Syrian do not need to show passports, according to the letter. The only checking of their identity is carried out by freelance translators who often have little or no experience of Syrian dialects or accents, and are not accountable for any mistakes.
A “large proportion” of asylum-seekers were giving false identities in order to stay in Germany, the letter warned.
“The discontinuation of identity checks has also facilitated infiltration by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists into Europe,” it claimed.
Austria on Friday announced plans to build a 2.5-mile stretch of fence on either side of its busiest border crossing with Slovenia.
Hungary and Slovenia have already built fences along sections of their borders.
Austrian officials said the new fence was not intended to prevent asylum-seekers from entering the country, but to control the flow.
“It’s about an orderly entry, not a barrier,” Josef Ostermayer, a minister at the Austrian chancellery said.
Meanwhile in eastern Germany, an eight-month pregnant asylum-seeker from Somalia was attacked and badly beaten.
The 21-year-old woman was taken to hospital. She has not been named and details of her injuries have not been released.
Police said they suspect two boys aged 14 and 15 and a 14-year-old girl of carrying out the attack.
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