French journalist Marc Weitzmann is at the scene of an unfolding hostage situation at a kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes in Paris. Weitzmann is the author of Tablet’s five-part series, France’s Toxic Hate, published this summer. This post will be updated regularly with Weitzmann’s dispatches from the scene.
12:36 p.m., EST: I can confirm that there are casualties: there are three hostages dead, five wounded, three of them seriously, and three policemen of the elite GIGN force are dead. Now also confirmed that Amedy Coulibaly, the alleged hostage-taker, is dead.
I’m being told that the dead hostages appear most likely to have been killed at the beginning of the attack on the store. As for the wounded, we don’t know if that was a result of the police assault or the hostage-takers who wounded them.
It’s also not clear that the police were totally in command of the timing of the operation in Vincennes [at the location of the kosher supermarket]. I’m being told that the brothers Kouachi went out and charged the police, elsewhere, in Dammartin. When that happened, their hands were forced in Vincennes. We were surprised by the speed of the operation. But they didn’t want to leave Coulibaly to make a move in the store after the assault on Dammartin.
One notable thing so far that I can attest to: On TV and on the radio up to this moment, no one—no one—is mentioning or discussing that the hostages are Jews. No one. It’s strange.
12:15 p.m., EST: It’s a much more messy situation than it appeared at first. A large number of hostages ran away from the store during the assault, and were sheltered behind an assault vehicle, and then in a store. There are dead bodies inside the store.
The streets are still completely deserted. Not a person in sight except for official personnel.
Regardless of the final casualty count, in all this is going to do more harm than good for President Francois Hollande. The very fact that it happened is a huge challenge to his leadership. What do you do next? How do you prevent it from happening again? Should you change the law? He’s facing enormous challenges.
11:30 a.m., EST: Series of shootings, waiting. The assault on the supermarket has started. There’s been a series of explosions and gunfire. No word on the hostages so far.
Now I’m told that two police are down, at least one gravely hurt, some of hostages are safe. The two hostage-takers are reported dead.
The mood has relaxed noticeably. But the whole area is like a warzone, completely deserted, save for forces and journalists. So there’s not too much tension. Now that we can leave the safe haven, I’ll have more soon.
10:25 a.m., EST: Right now I’m with about 40 journalists harbored in a restaurant nearby. The whole area is totally deserted. A nearby Jewish school has been evacuated. From here I can see a group of what appear to be Arab and black youths who are watching the show. They got enjoyment from seeing my group of journalists run and duck for cover, which we had to do on police orders. They are the only people besides journalists who are on the streets.
You can feel the general excitation, especially among the kids. I used to live in this neighborhood 20 years ago. It is generally mixed. Jews live with black Arabs, and the youths here were discussing the Charlie Hebdo incident quite animatedly. I overheard one say, “When it’s your time to die, it’s time to die.”
I spoke to a person who teaches history in a high school in one of the suburban Cités. He told me that this is a complete disaster. Teachers are afraid to mention the events. He told me that in his school students are asking to debate the massacre—and they are justifying it. Thirteen-year-olds, 14-year-olds saying, “You shouldn’t insult the Prophet. The killing is justified.” If this is free speech in France then France should change the law. The students don’t understand what the problem is. The teacher complained that they have been sounding alarms for 15 years.
The government is terrified. They were searching for the two brothers all day yesterday, unable to track them down. They are stuck now because they know that if the brothers are killed in the printing plant, the hostages in the kosher supermarket will die.
The longer the crisis lasts, the better it is for Marine Le Pen. With each hour that the government doesn’t solve it, the better the far-right opposition looks, the more their warnings seem to be coming to fruition. I heard one man say, “I’m not for Marine Le Pen, but she’s the only one who can handle this properly.”
9:45 a.m., EST: I am outside the security cordon around the kosher supermarket. The main thing police are dealing with now is that is that they are stuck with two hostage situations, and one goes with the other. [French police have reported a “sure link” between Amedy Coulibaly, the suspect in Friday’s attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris, and the Kouachi brothers, the suspects in the attack on Charlie Hebdo.] They can’t make a move on one without making a move on the other, because there could be consequences.
I’m hearing rumors that other Islamists are gathering to help their friends [the attackers]. That’s completely uncomfirmed, but it speaks to the paranoia that is currently gripping the capital.
Marc Weitzmann will be writing more on the unfolding crisis in France next week.