In France, Simultaneous Standoffs Erupt In Violence

Jan 9, 2015
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Once again, resetting the situation now in the area of Paris. We're tracking two stand offs today - one at a kosher market where at least one man has taken hostages. The other at an industrial building in a small town outside of Paris where two suspects in this week's Paris massacre have been confronting police. And that is what we're going to discuss first.

Reporter Lauren Frayer has been covering this story. And, Lauren, what are you learning right now?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Well, gunshots and explosions have been heard at that building northeast of Paris where the suspects are believed to have been holed up for some eight hours now, really all day. Dusk is falling over Paris. And French TV is showing live video of smoke rising from that building where the suspects have - are believed to have been holed up all day.

You can see several figures in black clothes and ski masks on the roof of a nearby building. There's one man scaling the wall of the building. Now we assume those are security forces. But police are not releasing any information about what's going on right now there.

INSKEEP: And let's remember the situation. We have these two men. They stole a vehicle. They were then tracked to this building. There was some concern or fear that they may or may not have had a hostage in there. And that may have caused authorities to move very carefully. And now what we have is signs of activity, which we're trying to interpret from a distance. Is that correct?

FRAYER: That's right. The whole village is on lockdown. Journalists are being kept far away on the edge of the village. Residents are being told to stay indoors. We're hearing parents of children calling into television - French television saying their children are trapped in a local high school. There are believed to be 900 people in that high school. They're safe. Children are being kept in the classrooms. Parents are being told not to come up and pick their children, to wait for word from authorities. And the situation is changing minute by minute in this village northeast of Paris.

INSKEEP: That's quite a few hours in that school since people went to school early on in the morning thinking it was an ordinary day. And here they are eight hours later and still inside that building and now awaiting the results of whatever may be happening inside that warehouse.

FRAYER: That's right. The principal of the school has been speaking to French media, telling parents not to be alarmed. There's a chance that they might bring in buses to transport those children to a safe area. But for now, they're safe in the school. The whole village has been on lock down. As you can imagine, people are terrified. We're just seeing live pictures now of more explosions, some debris flying up into the air over this building, some gray and white smoke and now flashes of light. It's unclear whether those are controlled explosions, whether there's a gunfight going on. It's unclear. But these are the pictures I'm watching live right now.

INSKEEP: OK, that's NPR's - that's reporter Lauren Frayer, who is in Paris. And remarkably, that is just one of the events in Paris that require our urgent attention this morning.

We're going to turn to NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who is tracking the other one, this one in the eastern part of Paris itself at a kosher market where a hostage situation has been unfolding all morning. Eleanor, what is happening now?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Yeah, Steve, that's right. I'm at the second hostage drama situation. It's a big boulevard. The police have cordoned it off. There's dozens of riot trucks here, riot police, police tape. And there's a hostage situation in that market right now. All of the residents have come out. Dusk is falling. It's the end of the day. Kids are coming out of school. Parents are out. The whole neighborhood is out. The day has been punctuated by sirens, ambulances going back and forth. And it's just incredible that this is happening in the center of Paris.

INSKEEP: What do you know about the - I guess we should say at least one gunman, it's not known if there are more - inside that market?

BEARDSLEY: Well, media reports are saying that this is the same gunman who shot the police officer in the south of Paris yesterday and that this man has links to the two brothers who were holed up in the town - in village in the north of France and that they knew each other from the jihadist ring in 2008 in Paris.

And there are reports that the two hostage situations are connected because the hostage taker here is threatening that if the police storm his friends in the north, he will kill the hostages here. And he's reportedly French media is saying holding five hostages.

INSKEEP: Now this is remarkable because we had the question still not fully answered as to whether there was a hostage in the small town in the north. You're telling us that effectively there is a hostage covering that situation because the two suspects have this ally who has grabbed people in this kosher market.

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely, and he's playing them off. And I can - you can only imagine what's going on back - the police are stretched thin. They've got riot police here and in the north.

I just heard a huge explosion, Steve - a bang. I don't know what it was. I'm not going to get excited. But everyone's on edge. I've been talking to people all day. And there's a - the feeling right now in Paris that anything - a second explosion, a bang, people are starting to run, heard. There's shooting. I think it's shooting, Steve. Staying here, Steve.

INSKEEP: Eleanor, make sure...

BEARDSLEY: I'm not going to go...

INSKEEP: Make sure you're undercover, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: I'm - yes. People - it's hard to tell what's going on. But there's this feeling -people were out earlier angry. They said this is our town. What is going on? Who are these - I talked to Jews. I talked to Muslims. This is a very mixed neighborhood - black, white. People were angry and...

INSKEEP: Eleanor, as best you can, we did not - the explosions you heard did not quite carry on the phone line. Of course there are many kinds of loud noises you can hear in an urban area. Can you describe at all the sounds you heard?

BEARDSLEY: Right. Well, they were like - boom, boom. They sounded like the shell fire that I've heard in the Ukraine, actually. They were just boom. They were something that sounded like - not sporadic - but boom. So I don't know. And people started to run. But now it's calm. There's no telling what it was.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Eleanor, now you're in a safe place. We're presuming you're taking care of yourself. But what...

BEARDSLEY: Well, I'm surrounded - I'm sitting on a bench, yeah. And there's people out.

INSKEEP: It's Paris.

MONTAGNE: So, yeah - well, sort of.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah. Exactly.

MONTAGNE: So why don't we use this time then, for a moment, as much as there's...

BEARDSLEY: OK.

MONTAGNE: ...All this activity going on to back up a little bit and remind people.

BEARDSLEY: I heard another one. Go ahead.

INSKEEP: Keep describing.

MONTAGNE: No, it's fine. If there's more that you can tell us, tell us.

BEARDSLEY: There's sirens, just heard another one so that was like five times. Now sirens. Go ahead.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, well, and what does that indicate, do you think? Sirens of police cars?

BEARDSLEY: I don't know. They're coming out of the blocked off - well, the police...

MONTAGNE: Emergency vehicles?

BEARDSLEY: ...Police emergency vehicle. And it's coming out of the blocked-off block. So there's no telling what's going on there. People aren't allowed to go in. The police have cordoned off.

MONTAGNE: OK, so the police...

BEARDSLEY: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: Why don't you take us back a little bit again? People are waking up to this story. Some will - this is so dramatic. But why don't you back us up and give us a thumbnail of what exactly has transpired where you are today?

BEARDSLEY: OK, this - while everyone was following the village under siege in the north of France, all of a sudden we started getting reports of a shootout in the east of Paris. And we thought, this can't be. And then, yes - and then hostage takers. And then - it's apparently the gunmen. So what happened is that a gunman stormed a kosher store, a kosher supermarket here, and took hostages. And there was a shootout, and there were - and that was the second drama. And I was confirmed then by the Paris prosecutors that a hostage drama was unfolding here.

And it was almost too much to believe that these two situations were happening simultaneously. And then we heard that the two could very much be connected. And it seems that they would have to be connected. How could this happen two times? I mean, people are in a state of shock.

INSKEEP: Eleanor Beardsley, stay with us. Give us a shout if you learn more information...

BEARDSLEY: OK.

INSKEEP: ...From where you are because we're going to go back to reporter Lauren Frayer, who is monitoring the other unfolding situation today.

Lauren, you described smoke, people climbing up the sides of that building, people on rooftops when you last were talking with us just a few minutes ago. Can you describe what's been happening in the few minutes as we've been listening to the dramatic events in eastern Paris?

FRAYER: That's right. In the past few minutes, dusk has fallen over Paris. We're still seeing gray smoke rise from that factory building in a small village, green countryside area northeast of Paris. But right now, French TV has just turned to a view of that kosher supermarket. So I'm looking at live pictures of that supermarket where Eleanor is a few blocks away. And I'm seeing masses of security official swarming around that supermarket. And I'm also seeing what look like civilians being rushed out of that building. Now we can't confirm who those people are. But there is definitely activity right there at the supermarket, at the kosher supermarket where a gunman has been holding hostages.

INSKEEP: Describe that - describe very briefly, Lauren, that what you say civilians being rushed out. You mean it appears that there are armed men who look like authorities bringing out other people who do not appear to be armed in the same way?

FRAYER: Yes. There are dozens of ambulances and police vans, security forces in riot gear. And literally 15 seconds ago, there were people in civilian clothes surrounded by what looked like security forces running across the street out of that building. And I see one ambulance moving now. I can't confirm who those people are, if they were the hostages inside that have come out. But there's certainly major activity going on there after several hours of a standoff.

MONTAGNE: Well, Lauren, just briefly we just have seconds left here. But from what you've described and what we just heard from Eleanor, it sounds like there's a coordinated effort here on the part of French security forces to move in at the same time in both of these situations.

FRAYER: It appears to be so. I mean, the police and military have managed a very delicate balancing act here - two major security operations, two standoffs, possibly civilian lives in danger in two different places. And it does look like there's activity in both of those places simultaneously...

INSKEEP: And we will...

FRAYER: ...In the past 30 seconds.

INSKEEP: And we will continue following that throughout this hour on MORNING EDITION. We're going to go away for a moment or two to your local station. But our reporters remain on the scene. And we're going to continue to bring you the latest. Again, we have signs of smoke, explosions and other sounds and signs of activity at both locations in Paris. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.