Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a bloody wave of bombings and shootings across Paris that left nearly 130 people dead and which the French president, François Hollande, denounced as an “act of war” that must be countered “mercilessly”.
Police reported that at least 128 people had been killed and up to 300 more injured – including 80 critically – in the six attacks, France’s deadliest since the second world war and the worst witnessed in Europe since the 2004 Madrid railway bombings.
Eight militants also died, seven in suicide bombings and one from police gunshot wounds. Police sources told French media that at least one of the fighters, a French national, had been identified by his fingerprints and was known to security services; a Syrian and an Egyptian passport were found close to the bodies of two others, but it was not yet clear that they belonged to the killers. Isis said it had dispatched the jihadis, wearing suicide bomb belts and carrying machine guns, across the French capital on
Friday night in a “blessed attack on… crusader France”. The “carefully selected” sites and coordinated nature of the attacks were intended, it said, to show that France would remain one of its main targets as long as its present policies continue.
“France and those who follow her voice must know that they remain the main target of Islamic State and that they will continue to smell the odor of death for having led the crusade, for having dared to insult our prophet, for having boasted of fighting Islam in France and striking Muslims in the caliphate with their planes,” the group said in a statement. The Swedish, Belgian and Romanian governments said their citizens were among those who died and there were fears a British man had also lost his life. Frantic friends and relatives mounted a desperate social media search to identify victims, with few details of their identities yet confirmed.
Hollande described the attacks as cowardly and “an act of war” that had been carefully “prepared, organised and planned from outside the country by Islamic State, but with help from inside”. The president added: “We will be merciless toward the barbarians of Islamic State group. Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action.” But he but did not say what form that action might take.
These were attacks “against France, against the values that we defend everywhere in the world, against what we are: a free country that means something to the whole planet”, Hollande said, calling for “unity and courage”. France would observe three days of official mourning, he added. Under the first national state of emergency to be declared in France since 1961, an extra 1,500 soldiers were mobilized to reinforce police in Paris, Hollande’s office said. All Saturday’s sports events in the French capital were cancelled, major shops, department stores, museums and tourist sites – including the Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Disneyland – stayed closed, and several metro stations were also shut.
No arrests were announced in Paris, and a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office, Agnès Thibault-Lecuivre, said authorities couldn’t rule out the possibility that other militants involved in the attack remained at large. Police said they were were screening hours of CCTV footage from the six locations where the attacks took place.
In southern Germany, the Bavarian state premier, Horst Seehofer, said there was reason to believe that a man arrested last week during a routine motorway check with “many machine guns, revolvers and explosives” in his car might be linked to the attacks. Islamic State also released an undated video on Saturday calling on Muslims to continue attacking France. Its foreign media arm, Al-Hayat Media Centre, filmed a number of militants – apparently French citizens – sitting cross-legged in an unidentified location and burning their passports.
“As long as you keep bombing you will not live in peace. You will even fear travelling to the market,” one of the militants, identified as “Abu Maryam the Frenchman”, told the camera. Addressing his fellow jihadis, he said: “Indeed, you have been ordered to fight the infidel wherever you find him. What are you waiting for? There are weapons and cars available and targets ready to be hit.”
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said Paris had been targeted because as a city “strengthened by its diversity”, it was “unbearable for fanatics”. “The message we want to give them is that we will be stronger than those who wish to reduce us to silence,” she said. As Parisians queued in their hundreds to give blood at a hospital close to a concert hall where the majority of the victims died, a Muslim community leader, Nadir Kahia, said he feared a “tsunami of hatred” against Muslims and residents of the capital’s poorer districts.
The carefully orchestrated series of attacks began at 9.20pm outside the Stade de France stadium north of Paris, where three suicide bombers detonated their explosive belts in the course of about 20 minutes. Hollande, who was at a friendly football match between France and Germany at the stadium, had to evacuated by his security guards to the
At about the same time, four gunmen entered a popular concert hall in the capital’s north-eastern 11th arrondissement, while others opened fire on a string of cafes and restaurants not far away, crowded on a mild November evening. They came despite France, one of the founding members of the US-led coalition carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Iraq and Syria, being on a high state of alert for possible terrorist attacks in the run-up to a global climate conference later this month.
The deadliest assault was at the Bataclan, a popular concert hall a few hundred metres from the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine hit along with a Jewish supermarket by Islamist militants in January during a three-day onslaught that left 20 people dead, including three Islamist gunmen. Witnesses said the militants marched into the venue, where more than 1,000 people had gathered to hear the Californian rock band Eagles of Death Metal, armed with Kalashnikov rifles and shouting “Allahu akbar”. At least 87 people lost their lives in the ensuing carnage, and dozens more were taken hostage for nearly three hours until armed riot police stormed the building at about midnight.
“They didn’t stop firing. There was blood everywhere, corpses everywhere. Everyone was trying to flee,” said Pierre Janaszak, a radio presenter who was at the concert. Other survivors said three of the attackers detonated their suicide belts as the security forces burst in.
Video footage shot from outside the venue showed bodies lying in the street, dozens of people running away from the entrance and survivors pulling the injured to safety. One witness described the scene as a bloodbath. The other shootings were at bars and restaurants on the Boulevard de Charonne, where 18 people reportedly lost their lives; Boulevard Voltaire, where one person died; Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi, where five were killed; and Rue Alibert, where 14 were shot dead.
Mark Colclough, a British-Danish psychotherapist, was on the Rue de la Fointaine au Roi in the 11th arrondissement when a gunman opened fire on patrons inside. “He was standing in a shooting position,” Colclough said.
“He had his right leg forward and he was standing with his left leg back. He was holding up to his left shoulder a long automatic machine gun. It was fully intentional, professional bursts of three or four shots. Everything he was wearing was tight, no zippers or collars. Everything was toned black. A man in military uniform, black jumper, black trousers, black shoes or boots and a machine-gun.”
The slaughter brought immediate international condemnation, with Barack Obama calling it “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share”. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said she was deeply shaken.
David Cameron said the UK “must be prepared for a number of British casualties” from the Paris atrocity and condemned the “brutal and callous murderers”. The Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, said his country “shared the sadness and the pain of the French people”. Terrorist crimes “cannot be justified”, he said. “The Paris tragedy requires of us all to unite in the fight against extremism, to bring a strong answer to terrorists’ actions.”
Pope Francis also condemned the killings as inhuman acts that left him shaken and pained. “There is no justification for these things,” he told a Catholic TV station.
The attacks follow a narrowly averted disaster in August, when an Islamist gunman was overpowered on a packed high-speed train in northern France.