PARIS ATTACKS: ISLAMIC STATE CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY
The extremist group Islamic State claimed responsibility Saturday for Friday night’s bombings and mass shootings in this shell-shocked city, an extraordinary string of assaults that killed more than 120 people and that French President Francois Hollande called “an act of war.”
As residents tried to absorb the enormity of the deadliest terrorist attack to hit France, authorities scrambled to determine who the assailants and their associates were, and braced for questions as to whether an intelligence failure contributed to the catastrophe.
The apparently coordinated attacks targeted people enjoying a Friday night out at restaurants and entertainment venues around Paris, including a concert hall and a sports arena. Islamic State said it struck “carefully chosen locations in the heart of the capital of France” in retaliation for French airstrikes on territory it controls in the Middle East.
Authorities across Europe moved Saturday to identify possible accomplices to seven attackers who unleashed a series of shootings and bombings across Paris, with Belgian authorities announcing they had made several arrests.
A spokeswoman for Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens told reporters that authorities had arrested “several suspects,” though it was not clear what connection, if any, they had to Friday’s attacks in Paris.
Geens said the arrests came after a rental car with Belgian license plates was seen close to the Bataclan theater in Paris, the scene of some of the worst violence, on Friday night, the magazine De Standaard reported.
French authorities identified one of the dead terrorists as a Frenchman, about 30 years old, who had previously been tracked by authorities in connection with his Islamic radical activities, France Info radio reported.
Meanwhile, French media reported that a Syrian passport was found near one of the dead terrorists after a bomb attack at a soccer game at the Stade de France, the national stadium just north of Paris, though it had not been established that the passport belonged to the attacker.
It appeared the passport holder had crossed into the European Union through the Greek island of Leros in October.
“We announce that the passport holder had passed from Leros on Oct. 3. where he was identified based on EU rules,” Greek Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
“We do not know if the passport was checked by other countries through which the holder likely passed.”
Toskas added: “We will continue the painstaking and persistent effort to ensure the security of our country and Europe under difficult circumstances, insisting on complete identification of those arriving.”
At least 129 people died and more than 352 others were injured, 99 seriously, in Friday’s series of six coordinated attacks across a broad swath of central Paris. Eight attackers opened fire at cafes, detonated suicide bombs near the stadium and sprayed a crowded concert hall with automatic gunfire.
French President Francois Hollande has declared a state of emergency and a three-day period of mourning after the worst terrorist attacks in France since World War II.
“Faced with terror, France must be strong, it must be great, and the state authorities must be firm. We will be,” he declared in a televised address to the nation Friday.
Public demonstrations in Paris have been banned until Thursday, and French schools, which normally are in session on Saturday mornings, were closed until Monday.
The extremist group Islamic State appeared to claim responsibility Saturday for the attacks, saying in a statement that “youth who divorced from the world and went to their enemy” had targeted “the hearts of the Crusaders” and unleashed “horror in the middle of their land.”
It said the attacks were in retaliation for French airstrikes on Islamic State-controlled territory in the Middle East, and that France would remain at the “top of the list” of its targets.
In Vienna, where delegates from across the Middle East and Europe were meeting to discuss a resolution to the long-running war in Syria, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Paris attacks strengthened their commitment to fight extremism.
“What they do is stiffen our resolve — all of us — to fight back, to hold people accountable, and to stand up for rule of law,” Kerry said.
He described the attacks as “a kind of medieval and modern fascism, at the same time, which has no regard for life, which seeks to destroy and create chaos and disorder and fear.”
Lavrov said he fully agreed with Kerry.
“We have to strongly reiterate there will be no tolerance vis-a-vis terrorists,” he said, adding that there will be “no justification for us not doing much more to defeat” violent Islamist groups such as Islamic State and the Nusra front.
Defying both the attackers’ attempt to sow fear and officials’ appeal to stay home, some Parisians were out on the streets Saturday, trying to recapture a bit of the rhythm of ordinary life, though in subdued and somber fashion. Others lined up to donate blood at hospitals, which were overwhelmed by the number of injured who streamed through their doors late Friday night.
Many shops and other businesses — including Disneyland Paris, one of the city’s top attractions — remained closed Saturday.
Residents who ventured outside Saturday were joined by 1,500 French troops deployed to reinforce soldiers already stationed in Paris following its last terrorist attack, the slaying of 17 people in January at the headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and at a kosher supermarket.
Several of Friday’s attacks occurred in the same general area as the Charlie Hebdo offices.
The identities of the alleged attackers were either not known or were not being released. Police said all seven assailants were dead.
If the attackers turn out to be French-born, fears of more “homegrown” terrorism — already fanned by the Charlie Hebdo massacre, whose plotters were French — will likely increase.
France’s Muslim community braced for a potential backlash. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the country saw a spike in acts of anti-Muslim aggression, such as vandalism of mosques. France is home to the highest proportion of Muslims — 7.5% — of any country in Western Europe.
Details of how Friday’s assaults were carried out remained hazy. It was still unclear, for example, whether the restaurants and concert theater were attacked by two separate teams of militants or one group that went from one place to another.
The site of greatest slaughter was the Bataclan theater, a popular venue where the Southern California-based band Eagles of Death Metal was performing Friday night when the audience came under siege.
Attackers opened fire on the crowd with automatic weapons, shouting “God is great!” or blaming France for airstrikes on Islamic State in Syria, according to some reports. Dozens of concert-goers were killed before French forces stormed the theater.
Many Parisians posted appeals and photos on social media asking for news of friends or loved ones whom they had not heard from since the attacks. One man said on Twitter that a government hotline set up to inquire about missing persons was so overloaded that calls could not get through.
Well-wishers left flowers at the various attack sites, several of which were blocked off by police.