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A City In Mourning, Parisians Go Back To Work

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I'm David Greene, live in Paris this morning. Our makeshift studio here is overlooking the Rue Saint-Lazare. It's a boulevard with cafes and bistros and some of those classic Parisian apartment buildings. The street, it's a classic Parisian scene. People are walking to the Metro station. They've been going to work here all morning. But this is a Monday morning like no other. News has been breaking this morning about the attacks that were carried out in Paris on Friday night that killed 129 people. There is new information about a manhunt that is going on nationwide in Paris and across France and also a search for suspected attackers from Belgium. And let's turn now to our correspondent there. Peter Kenyon is on the line. Peter, good morning.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Good morning. How are you, David?

GREENE: I'm well, thank you. And just update us if you can. I know you're in the neighborhood of Molenbeek, which has really been the focus of this raid. And the raid is actually still happening right now. What are you seeing?

KENYON: Yes, the street - Delannoy Street (ph) - is blocked off. Journalists are kept back, and there's police tape. And we have seen police looking towards a particular building. And there has been the sound of percussion grenades. I have not heard anything since I've been here that sounded like gunfire. But it's clear the operation is still in progress. The situation seems fairly tense. And this neighborhood is the target of - the interior minister and the prime minister yesterday were saying, Molenbeek must be cleaned up. And apparently, this is one sign of that.

GREENE: You say cleaned up. What exactly do you mean by that? And tell us more about this neighborhood, if you can, Peter.

KENYON: Yes, Molenbeek is a poor - maybe you'd call it working-class - neighborhood. There's a large Muslim population. The - there is a history of people from this neighborhood having been involved in attacks in the past. There was one on a high-speed train that did not result in any fatalities. There was one in the Jewish museum here in Brussels that did have fatalities. And now we find that three brothers from here apparently had involvement. One, in fact, was killed at the Bataclan Concert Hall on Friday night. Another appears to be in custody. And the third, Salah Abdeslam, seems to be at large. And we had some reports that he was the person - the subject of this raid. But that's not at all clear. Nothing is confirmed. We won't know till they're finished.

GREENE: Peter, I'm just still focusing on this language from a public official - you know, cleaned up. I mean, there seems to be such sensitivities here when we're talking about a neighborhood where they might be targeting people but where the risk is, you know, that an entire community could become the target.

KENYON: Well, that's exactly right. And when you talk to the people who live here, there is the same sense of anger and puzzlement that they should all be blamed for the acts of a few. And the anger on the other side, from the security officials, may be stemming in part from the fact that there are going to be angry calls for explanations of how this was allowed to happen. Whether this was planned from Belgium or not, certainly there's been participation, easy transit across the borders. And clearly, the security forces are feeling an urgency in being seen to do something, whether this results in what the prime minister calls cleaning up the neighborhood is completely a different question.

GREENE: All right, that's NPR's Peter Kenyon joining us from Brussels, joining us from a neighborhood of Brussels where there is a manhunt on the way for some of the suspected attackers from the attacks here in Paris on Friday night.

Now, last night we were in and around Paris, making our way as close as we could to the Bataclan theater. That's the concert venue where gunmen held hundreds hostage and killed many dozens of people on Friday night. When we were there last night, police were armed with semi-automatic rifles. And they had set up this barricade just a few blocks away from the concert venue. And that barricade had been turned into a memorial that was just covered with flowers and votive candles.

JULIE MARX: Actually, this one is small compared to others.

GREENE: I was standing at that barricade at that memorial with Julie Marx (ph). She's a 24-year-old business student in Paris. And she was still stunned that terrorists hit six different targets in her city on the same night.

MARX: That means that you don't have enough candles to cover all these places.

GREENE: Julie told us that actually right before we met up with her last night, there was a crowd that had gathered in a central Paris square to come together and mourn. It was right near her apartment. And some loud sound went off. And it sent people running in fear. And a few dozen of them came right up to Julie's apartment building. It was just as she was going inside the front door.

MARX: There was a crowd coming to me, saying, open the door; please, open the building. So I just opened it again, and there was - I don't know, right - maybe 100 people coming...

GREENE: You were inside, and they were just desperate to get inside and off the streets.

MARX: Yes, like, please, there's noises of shootings, you know? So they say, please, open the door. I opened the door, and we were, like, 40 people in my apartment.

GREENE: You brought 40 strangers into your apartment...

MARX: Yeah...

GREENE: Who were just very afraid?

MARX: I said, of course, come in. I mean, being friendly is all we have now. Having compassion, it's all we have now because if we just keep being afraid and being lonely and alone, you know, an individual, we have lost everything.

GREENE: Do you feel this is a turning point in some way to you?

MARX: What do you mean, turning point?

GREENE: Does this change the war, the dynamic of things? Did this change sort of how you think about ISIS and the threat and...

MARX: What changes is that we feel the threat now. We feel that the threat is real. And it can happen anytime, anyplace. Maybe it can be a good thing for us because now we know that we have to fight.

GREENE: What does fight mean to you, being a 24-year-old Parisian? What does it mean to fight?

MARX: For me, it's war. But, I mean, I don't know how it's going to happen. But I think that we have to change the policy in Syria and do something that is strong.

GREENE: Would you have said that maybe six months ago, a year ago, that it's time to go to war?

MARX: No. No.

GREENE: That is one of the voices of a young woman here in Paris last night talking about whether or not she's ready to go to war.

Now I want to bring in another voice here. Joining me in the studio here in Paris is Elia Minsum (ph). He's a sociologist at the Sorbonne University here in Paris. Good morning to you.

ELIA MINSUM: Good morning.

GREENE: Could I just begin by asking you about something that my colleague, Peter Kenyon, was talking about in a neighborhood of Brussels that has been known for having suspected ties to extremism? There has been talk, as Peter said, of public officials saying it's time to clean up that neighborhood. When you use language like that, you know, for a largely Muslim and poor community, I mean, there have to be so many sensitivities involved here.

MINSUM: Yeah, sure. We are in a democratic country. So you can be - you can have an extremist ideology, and you're not going to be put in jail if you are an extremist. Now, cleaning up, what does it mean? We have, like, the intelligence services. They are working on trying to know and what is the - these peoples. And what we can say, we know that now in the Muslims' community there is a - some people who are close to the Salafi and Wahhabi ideology. And I think that there is a kind of ideological fight we have to do. But not just saying, like - just like as a marketing policy, saying we are going to clean up, it doesn't mean anything. And now what we can - what we have to do even is to ask of our democracies the link they have with some Wahhabi country, as Saudi Arabia. We know that France has some contracts of weapons with Saudi Arabia, which is one of the countries with the most racist ideology because Wahhabism, it's a racist ideology. It's a kind of Nazism (ph). If you're not - if you don't think like them, you are like an enemy.

GREENE: So you're saying you want to actually turn the question back at some governments and say, you have some ties to governments that seem extremist. Is that what you're saying?

MINSUM: Yeah, I think we have to ask about what we are doing in terms of foreign policy. We have, like, some wars now, and - against Syria. But we have, like, some country which are friends of France. We have some economic relations. And we know that this country - we know now, since so many years that they are promoted a kind of this ideology, which is now seducing a part of the youth - a little part - but this is the reality in the Muslim communities and in the Arab countries.

GREENE: We just have a few seconds left. I just wondered - you were born in Algeria but have spent most of your life here Paris. In the hours that we've gone through here and a lot of the suspected attackers - there's been this manhunt - you, as a Muslim in France, have you felt a change in the way Muslims - you know, maybe even like yourself - are being treated?

MINSUM: No, no, no, I didn't feel. For the moment, we don't know what's happened. And I think that now the difference with the Sharia's (ph) attack is now that's - everybody can be a target in this attack. And I know that in France, this is a mixed society. Most of the people, they are making a difference between the extremist and the reality because people are just - the Muslim community in France, they are - it's complex. They are now in the middle class. They are settling in France. This is the reality.

GREENE: All right, that is Elia Minsum, who is at the Sorbonne University, speaking to us this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.