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Putting The Paris Attacks In Context After The Shootings At 'Charlie Hebdo'


We're going to turn now to Vivienne Walt. She's a reporter with Time Magazine based in Paris. And, Vivienne, tell us where you are in the city. I know these attacks have taken place in three different locations. Where are you?

VIVIENNE WALT: Well, I'm across the river from the shootings, but - and the explosions. But that doesn't mean that I haven't heard, you know, hours of sirens screeching through the streets and helicopters hovering overhead. This is not that big a city, and really anything that takes place within the center of the city is very close by.

CORNISH: When did you first hear that something was wrong?

WALT: The very first time was, I guess, right around 10 o'clock at night, and the first word that came out, in fact, was the shootout at the restaurant. And at first it appeared as if it was some kind of, you know, criminal act, although this is not a very heavily armed city, in terms of just regular crime. And then within minutes, in fact, I had my next-door neighbor on my doorstep in floods of tears because her husband and child were at the stadium watching the football match, and their phones had gone dead, and she couldn't reach them. So then it very quickly became clear that there was something very big going on. And then, of course, the phones started to ring. And, you know, this is a city already deeply jittery still, many months after the Charlie Hebdo attacks...

CORNISH: Yes, you mentioned that it's...

WALT: (Unintelligible) in the city.

CORNISH: You mentioned it's not normally heavily armed, but we know after the shootings in 2015 there were security officials - right? - posted outside of synagogues and other areas that they felt needed protecting.

WALT: Every train station, every major intersection, there are heavily armed police and soldiers - regular soldiers with, you know, military weapons who patrol the stations, major department stores, synagogues, as you mentioned. And every public building has signs on it which say, this city is on high alert, red alert. It's got - there are red triangles everywhere signifying that there is the highest terror alert. So although people have, you know, obviously gone back to a more relaxed lifestyle, it's never far from people's mind that another attack could happen. And everyone had expected other attacks to happen. It's just that nobody expected after all these many months of an anti-terrorism regime in place, for people to have pulled off such a tightly coordinated and such a deadly series of attacks.

CORNISH: What more can you tell us about what you call the security regime. What other precautions had France been taking, and were they controversial?

WALT: They are essentially not that controversial. The January attacks really shut people up, and they were prepared to live with a certain amount of vigilance, no matter whether they were searched in and out of public buildings. I live across the street from a department store, and I often take a shortcut through it. Every bag is searched as I walk in into any door. And that was never the case before. So people are prepared to tolerate the inconveniences. There's far greater security at the airports, for example. What's going to be fairly difficult now is how people are going to come to grips with the fact that all these many security measures just simply failed to work. And it's hard to see in a democratic, open city such as Paris how much more security they can clamp down in a place like this. The other big thing, which, of course, you've mentioned, is that the city is getting ready to host its biggest international event in many years. There are something like 100 heads of state who are scheduled to fly in here in just a couple of weeks.

CORNISH: That's Vivienne Walt in Paris. She works for Time Magazine. Thank you so much.

WALT: You're welcome.

CORNISH: And we want to remind you that we're still watching the situation in Paris - attacks on three different scenes there, dozens killed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.