IS ji­hadists claim Paris at­tacks that killed 128

France vows ‘mer­ci­less’ re­sponse Con­cert hall, sta­dium, cafes tar­geted

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Is­lamic State ji­hadists yes­ter­day claimed a se­ries of co­or­di­nated at­tacks by gun­men and sui­cide bombers in Paris that killed at least 128 peo­ple in scenes of car­nage at a con­cert hall, restau­rants and the na­tional sta­dium. French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande also blamed the Is­lamist ex­trem­ist group for the blood­shed and called the co­or­di­nated as­sault on Fri­day night at six dif­fer­ent sites an “act of war”.

Au­thor­i­ties iden­ti­fied the body of a French na­tional known to the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices near the Bat­a­clan con­cert hall, where 82 peo­ple were killed by armed men who had shouted “Al­lahu akbar” (“God is great­est!”) be­fore gun­ning down con­cert-go­ers. Po­lice sources said he was prob­a­bly one of those who stormed the build­ing as around 1,500 peo­ple were watch­ing a Cal­i­for­nian rock band. The dis­cov­ery of Syr­ian and Egyp­tian pass­ports near the body of other of as­sailants ap­peared to jus­tify fears over the threat posed to Europe by ex­trem­ism in the Mid­dle East.

The at­tacks, which saw the first-ever sui­cide bomb­ings on French soil, were “pre­pared, or­ga­nized and planned over­seas, with help from in­side (France) which the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will es­tab­lish,” Hol­lande said. An­a­lysts at Eurasia Group said the at­tacks “con­firm a struc­tural shift in the modus operandi of the Is­lamic State, and rep­re­sent a pre­lude to ad­di­tional at­tacks in the West.” A man ar­rested in Ger­many in early Novem­ber af­ter guns and ex­plo­sives were found in his car may be linked to the at­tacks in Paris, Bavaria’s state premier said, with­out giv­ing de­tails.

The streets of the French cap­i­tal were eerily quiet yes­ter­day, as au­thor­i­ties de­clared a state of na­tional emer­gency fol­low­ing the worst at­tacks in Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bomb­ings. While many res­i­dents stayed in­side out of fear, hun­dreds gath­ered spon­ta­neously at blood do­na­tion cen­tres while oth­ers flocked to place can­dles and flow­ers at the sites where peo­ple had died.

The at­tack on the Bat­a­clan took place a short dis­tance from the for­mer of­fices of Char­lie Hebdo mag­a­zine that was at­tacked by ji­hadists in Jan­uary. Like those at­tacks, the mas­sacre sparked an out­pour­ing of emo­tion around the world, with Lon­don’s Tower Bridge, Berlin’s Bran­den­berg Gate and New York’s World Trade Cen­ter all il­lu­mi­nated in the red, white and blue of the French tri­col­ore.

Shocked sur­vivors told how eight mil­i­tants, all wear­ing sui­cide vests, stalked the city, in­dis­crim­i­nately gun­ning down peo­ple at bars and restau­rants on a busy Fri­day night. In the worst of the blood­shed, dozens of peo­ple were mown down at a sold-out show by Amer­i­can rock group Ea­gles of Death Metal. The gun­men then be­gan ex­e­cut­ing hostages one by one, wit­nesses said. “They didn’t stop fir­ing. There was blood every­where, corpses every­where. Ev­ery­one was try­ing to flee,” Pierre Janaszak, a ra­dio pre­sen­ter who was at the con­cert, told AFP.

The gun­men were heard rag­ing at Hol­lande and his de­ci­sion in Septem­ber to be­gin air strikes on Is­lamic State ji­hadists in Syria. “I clearly heard them say ‘It’s the fault of Hol­lande, it’s the fault of your pres­i­dent, he should not have in­ter­vened in Syria’,” Janaszak added. The band sur­vived the at­tack but abruptly cut short their Euro­pean tour and have re­turned to the United States, the con­cert pro­mot­ers said.

As heav­ily-armed po­lice stormed the Bat­a­clan at around 12.30 am (2330 GMT), three of the gun­men blew them­selves up, while a fourth was hit by po­lice fire. A po­lice of­fi­cer who took part in the storm­ing of the build­ing told AFP: “It was hor­ri­ble in­side, a blood­bath, peo­ple shot in the head, peo­ple who were shot as they were ly­ing on the ground.”

In a state­ment posted on­line yes­ter­day, IS said “eight broth­ers wear­ing ex­plo­sive belts and car­ry­ing as­sault ri­fles” con­ducted a “blessed at­tack on... Cru­sader France” say­ing the tar­gets were “care­fully cho­sen”. It also re­ferred to French air strikes on IS in Syria, threat­en­ing fur­ther at­tacks “as long as it con­tin­ues its Cru­sader cam­paign.”

A to­tal of 128 peo­ple were killed and 300 wounded, of whom 80 were said to be in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. The toll does not in­clude the eight at­tack­ers. Among the vic­tims were at least three for­eign­ers, in­clud­ing two Bel­gians and a Por­tuguese man, of­fi­cials said yes­ter­day. France has been on high alert fol­low­ing the Jan­uary at­tacks and nar­rowly averted more blood­shed in Au­gust when a gunman was over­pow­ered on a packed high-speed train com­ing from Am­s­ter­dam. No ar­rests had been made by 5:00 pm (1600 GMT) yes­ter­day. Po­lice were try­ing to iden­tify the at­tack­ers’ body parts and screen­ing hours of CCTV footage.

Hol­lande im­me­di­ately de­clared three days of na­tional mourn­ing, and France will hold a minute’s si­lence at mid­day tomorrow when flags will be low­ered to half mast. “Faced with war, the coun­try must take ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion,” Hol­lande said af­ter an emer­gency meet­ing of se­cu­rity chiefs. He also an­nounced three days of na­tional mourn­ing. “France will be mer­ci­less to­wards th­ese bar­bar­ians from Daesh,” he said, us­ing an Arab acro­nym for Is­lamic State. For­mer pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy said in a state­ment: “The war we must wage should be to­tal.”

In a sign of the tension grip­ping the world’s most vis­ited city, the Eif­fel Tower was closed in­def­i­nitely and the main cin­ema chains shut on po­lice ad­vice. Dis­ney­land Paris also said it would not open in a move of sol­i­dar­ity and sev­eral of Paris’ big depart­ment stores were also closed af­ter ini­tially open­ing for sev­eral hours. Hol­lande him­self was hastily evac­u­ated from the Stade de France when sui­cide bombers blew them­selves up out­side the sta­dium dur­ing a friendly foot­ball in­ter­na­tional be­tween France and Ger­many. As the drama un­folded, the Ger­man team de­cided to spend the night at the sta­dium rather than risk­ing the drive through the French cap­i­tal to their ho­tel, the man­ager said. Af­ter be­ing whisked from the sta­dium near the blasts, Hol­lande de­clared a na­tional state of emer­gency, the first since World War Two. Border con­trols were tem­po­rar­ily re-im­posed to stop per­pe­tra­tors es­cap­ing.

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama de­scribed the car­nage as “an at­tack on all of hu­man­ity” and an emo­tional Pope Fran­cis said he was “shaken” by the “in­hu­man” at­tacks on the French cap­i­tal. Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron said the at­tacks showed IS ji­hadists had stepped up their ca­pa­bil­i­ties. “Last night’s at­tacks sug­gest a new de­gree of plan­ning and co­or­di­na­tion and a greater am­bi­tion for mass ca­su­alty at­tacks,” he said.

The car­nage took place af­ter France tight­ened border se­cu­rity ahead of key UN cli­mate talks just out­side the French cap­i­tal which be­gin on Nov 30 and will be at­tended by Obama and dozens of other world lead­ers. And Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, who was due to visit France to­day, post­poned his trip.

As well as the sta­dium and the con­cert hall, sev­eral restau­rants were also tar­geted, in­clud­ing a pop­u­lar Cam­bo­dian eatery in the trendy Canal St Martin area, where at least 12 peo­ple died. Out­side the restau­rant, mourn­ers yes­ter­day left flow­ers, a can­dle and the French na­tional flag em­bla­zoned with the Latin slo­gan of Paris, which reads: “It is buf­feted by the waves, yet re­mains afloat.” An­other 18 peo­ple were killed at nearby Rue de Charonne where wit­nesses said a cafe and a Ja­panese restau­rant were tar­geted.

Sylvestre, a young man who was at the Stade de France when bombs went off there, said he was saved by his cell­phone, which he was hold­ing to his ear when de­bris hit it. “This is the cell phone that took the hit, it’s what saved me,” he said. “Oth­er­wise my head would have been blown to bits,” he said, show­ing the phone with its screen smashed. French news­pa­pers spoke of “car­nage” and “hor­ror”. Le Fi­garo’s head­line said: “War in the heart of Paris” on a black back­ground with a pic­ture of peo­ple on stretch­ers.

Julien Pearce, a jour­nal­ist from Europe 1 ra­dio, was in­side the con­cert hall when the shoot­ing be­gan. In an eye­wit­ness re­port posted on the sta­tion’s web­site, Pearce said sev­eral very young in­di­vid­u­als, who were not wear­ing masks, en­tered the hall dur­ing the con­cert, armed with Kalash­nikov as­sault ri­fles and started “blindly shoot­ing at the crowd”. “There were bod­ies every­where,” he said. The gun­men shot their vic­tims in the back, fin­ish­ing some off at point-blank range be­fore reload­ing their guns and fir­ing again, Pearce said, af­ter es­cap­ing into the street by a stage door, car­ry­ing a wounded girl on his shoul­der.

Toon, a 22-year-old mes­sen­ger who lives near the Bat­a­clan, was go­ing into the con­cert hall with two friends at around 10.30 pm when he saw three young men dressed in black and armed with ma­chine guns. He stayed out­side. One of the gun­men be­gan fir­ing into the crowd. “Peo­ple were fall­ing like domi­noes,” he told Reuters. He saw peo­ple shot in the leg, shoul­der and back, with sev­eral ly­ing on the floor, ap­par­ently dead. But amid the shock, some res­i­dents were de­fi­ant. Speak­ing to AFP at the Bat­a­clan, con­cert-goer Charles in­sisted he would not be cowed by terror. “We won’t give in to fear,” he said. “I’m go­ing to a con­cert on Tues­day. Keep rock­ing!”

— AFP

(Right) Vic­tims of a shoot­ing at­tack are seen on the pave­ment out­side La Belle Equipe restau­rant in Paris late Fri­day. (Top left) French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, pro­tected by armed body­guards, stands near the Bat­a­clan con­cert hall in cen­tral Paris early yes­ter­day; (Above left) A me­mo­rial of flow­ers and can­dles is seen in Stras­bourg, east­ern France, yes­ter­day.

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