PARIS, France – Ten months after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, Paris came under siege again after shootings shook the city in four different neighborhoods and at least two bombs exploded at the national football stadium in St. Denis last night.
As the night went on and the worst attack on France since World War II unfolded, terrorists took people inside the Bataclan, a renowned theatre in the heart of Paris, hostage during a rock concert and executed audience members at random.
The gravity of the situation dawned on residents relatively late. Some initially thought they heard firecrackers, others suspected a bar brawl.
But sirens sounded through the streets in the early hours of Saturday morning as the armed forces gathered at the Place de la Bastille, preparing to raid the Bataclan.
In the meantime, all borders were closed and French President François Hollande declared a state of emergency. In the face of such adversity, Parisians showed exceptional courage and solidarity. The hashtag #porteouverte (“open door”) on social media helped local residents offer their homes as safe havens to people near sites of attack.
Local taxi drivers turned off their meters and took passengers home for free.
Many Parisians who had been out – like on any other Friday night – were stranded at bars and restaurants, where they remained hidden until it was safe to come out.
Such was the case for Tenzin Paldon, who had been out for a birthday dinner with friends in the Oberkampf neighborhood, minutes from the sites of attack.
‘We hid in the restaurant until 2 a.m. I held many hands, and hugged many people,” she said in a Facebook status which she admitted was difficult to write.
Late this morning, the Islamic State, or ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attack, denouncing the “perversity” of Paris in a chilling declaration that describes the assaults Friday as being “only the beginning of the storm.”
It is now the evening after.
A climate of uncertainty still prevails, and it’s difficult to distinguish news from rumor on social media. One thing, however, is for certain: Parisians are thankful for the everyday signs of business as usual.
“Never have I been so happy to see people doing their grocery shopping, having a coffee, going to the boulangerie, or walking their dog,” says Elise Brunet, a graduate student at Sciences Po university.
As Parisians respond to calls for unity and venture out into the streets again, the city’s Latin motto – fluctuat nec mergitur, which means “shaken, but never sunk” – seems more fitting than ever.
Indeed, since the attacks on journalists and others at Charlie Hebdo magazine, French society began a deep introspection into its values and inclusiveness.
As France comes to terms with what has been called the Parisian 9/11, and commentators warn that backlash against French Muslims is exactly what ISIS wants, that debate is more relevant today than ever.
Sara Chatterjee is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.