Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
With a manhunt still underway, the city's usual bustle has been replaced with a sense of shock and heightened security.
After the horrific attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo Wednesday, Paris woke up Thursday in lockdown mode. If anything, tension in the city seems to be tightening, and for good reason. Following a separate attack, two gunmen shot and killed a policewoman in southwestern Paris this morning. Meanwhile, the two main Charlie Hebdo killers remain at large. An “attack alert” has been declared across the whole Ile de France region, the nation’s highest state of security readiness.
In practice, this means that the usual security measures—police surveillance of key institutions, transit and public areas—have been beefed up massively. Cars are now banned from parking directly outside schools (where all field trips have been cancelled), and “crisis cells” for managing emergencies have been set up in ministries and the prefectures than govern the wider Paris region. The city’s police presence has also mushroomed, with 1300 soldiers and gendarme military police now drafted in from across Northern France. Right now, police are trying to turn Paris Proper into a form of fortress, placing a police guard at each one of the city gates—still the sole entry points across the Parisian beltway—ready to give chase if the Charlie Hebdo attackers return.
There’s a chance they will try to. While the getaway driver turned himself in Wednesday night, the killers are still at large and were last seen heading back in the direction of the city. Just after midday French time, the two fugitives held up a gas station and stole some food in the village of Villers-Coterets, northeast of Paris, before turning their car around and heading back towards the capital.
Judging by eyewitness accounts the sense of shock in the city is still palpable. Following mass impromptu demonstrations last night in the Place de la République, the inevitable aftershocks of the killings are now being felt across Paris. As in Boston post-marathon bombing, transit stations (including parts of the Gare de L’Est) and buildings are being temporarily cleared, extra vigilance sharpening people’s eyes and fraying their nerves. As of yesterday afternoon, Paris’ department stores (now heavily guarded) were all but empty—and this on the first day of the winter sales. This could well be the result of fear, but it’s also perfectly reasonable that, with the horrible events of this week, Parisians just didn’t feel a whole lot like shopping.
Despite all this, the overall mood seems to be one of stoic fatalism. After all, the Charlie Hebdo offices were already under police surveillance (it’s possible the attackers had been watching for some time for their chance). As one SNCF train guard at the Gare Saint Lazare put it:
“There are more military than usual and we were asked to be vigilant, but what can you do? If something goes down, I just hope they don’t shoot me.”