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French Media Report At Least 60 Dead In Paris Attacks

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Joining me in the studio is NPR's national security editor Phil Ewing and also NPR's Washington senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Phil, I want to start with you. We've heard this being described as an act of terrorism. But how far are security officials going in using those terms?

PHIL EWING, BYLINE: I think they're there at this point. The consensus is forming for the people we're hearing from that this definitely appears to bear all the hallmarks. It's a coordinated attack, multiple attackers. They appear to be heavily armed. They used explosives at this soccer stadium. And so the next question for those people both in the U.S. and Paris and elsewhere will be exactly who was responsible. You know, which group can you put this on in terms of attribution?

CORNISH: Looking back to January and the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine, at the time, the gunmen identified themselves as belonging to al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen. Can you kind of remind us of the connection there and what we should look out for as people start talking about who could be responsible?

EWING: Yeah, that's right. In fact, the gunmen, if I remember correctly, identified themselves as having traveled to Yemen and gotten some terrorist training. They may make some claims of their own. There's a hostage situation according to reports this evening in Paris. And one thing that we've heard from one law enforcement official is these terrorists could want to drag this out and make statements and try and make a public show of this. They may identify themselves and their affiliation, or it may be up to counterterrorism and law enforcement officials to actually trace the breadcrumbs after this is over when the live situation has ended in Paris.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, it's not uncommon in social media, also, for jihadists - right? - to make all kinds of claims or connections.

EWING: Yeah, that's right. And another example very recently - the news was the downing of that Russian airliner over Egypt. There's been claims of responsibility there and a lot of confidence by law enforcement officials in England and the U.K. and Russia about who's responsible, but no definitive proof yet. And so sometimes these things can take time in terms of pinning down exactly who is responsible.

CORNISH: Washington editor Ron Elving, President Obama addressed the nation tonight. It was brief, but can you give us an idea of what he had to say?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: The president came out a little bit before 6 o'clock Washington time. And he said, this is an attack not just on Paris. It's an attack not just on the people of France. It's an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.

And, of course, he offered any help that the United States can possibly give to France at this time. And he did use the word terrorism in referring to the attacks.

CORNISH: The president was scheduled to fly to Paris at the end of the month for climate talks where dozens of heads of state are supposed to gather. Any sense about the security around that or kind of what that attack - what the attack could mean for that big meeting?

ELVING: Well, you know, that's still a couple of weeks away, but the president is planning to go to what will be the greatest world gathering on the subject of climate change there has ever been. And the gathering of world leaders is close to being unprecedented, certainly on that subject matter. So the security for that event was already going to be absolutely mammoth and beyond any precedent. Now after this attack, one has to wonder.

The president is actually scheduled to travel much sooner than that. Tomorrow afternoon he is flying to Turkey for the G-20 meeting, and he is to be there into next week. And then he is going to be traveling on to Malaysia, other places. So the president is scheduled to be traveling and traveling to, at least in this first leg of his trip, quite close to the central battleground of a fight against ISIS. We don't know, of course, that this particular attack is connected in any way to ISIS. But considering the overall picture of struggle and conflict in the region, this is obviously a fraught moment for the president to be traveling there.

ELVING: That's NPR's Washington senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. We also heard from NPR's national security editor Phil Ewing. We want you to stay with us because we're going to be bringing you the latest on the events in Paris from reporters there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.