Paris (CBC/AP/CP/Reuters) – One of the bombers in the wave of deadly Paris attacks that killed 127 people Friday night was a young Frenchman flagged for links with Islamic extremism, police said.
Officials said the man was involved in the rampage and hostage-taking during a rock show at a Paris concert hall, one of the six sites targeted in a series of gun and bomb attacks launched in rapid succession by at least eight attackers.
Gunmen targeted Paris cafés, detonated suicide bombs near France’s national stadium and killed hostages inside the concert hall. More than 200 people were injured, dozens critically.
Earlier, police officials said at least one suicide bomber who targeted another site, France’s national stadium, was found to have a Syrian passport.
On Saturday, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility for the attacks and said France would remain at the “top of the list” of its targets.
An online statement said eight militants armed with explosive belts and automatic weapons attacked carefully chosen targets in the “capital of adultery and vice,” including the soccer stadium, where France was playing Germany, and the Bataclan concert hall, where an American rock band was playing and “hundreds of apostates were attending an adulterous party.”
“The stench of death will not leave their noses as long as they remain at the forefront of the Crusaders’ campaign, dare to curse our prophet, boast of a war on Islam in France and strike Muslims in the lands of the caliphate with warplanes that were of no use to them in the streets and rotten alleys of Paris,” it said.
French President François Hollande called the attacks an “act of war” and promised to be ruthless in striking out at ISIS.
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Speaking to the country Saturday, Hollande said the attacks were “committed by a terrorist army, the Islamic State group, a jihadist army, 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.”
He said France “will be merciless toward the barbarians of Islamic State group.” France “will act by all means anywhere, inside or outside the country.”
France has been bombing ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition, and has troops fighting extremists in Africa.
The special meeting in the Elysée Palace for Hollande’s top government and security officials comes as police hunt for potential accomplices to the eight attackers who were killed. Hollande declared a state of emergency — the first such move in a decade — and ordered 1,500 additional troops deployed.
The attacks raise concerns about international events that France is hosting, such as a UNESCO forum in Paris on Monday with world leaders, and major climate talks in Paris in two weeks.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and army, gendarme and police chiefs were among those at the meeting at the Elysée.
The perpetrators remained a mystery: most of their nationalities, their motives, even their exact number. Authorities said eight died, seven of them in suicide bombings, a new terror tactic in France. Police shot and killed the other assailant.
Prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre said authorities couldn’t rule out the possibility that other militants involved in the attack remained at large. Early in the year, Islamic extremists attacked the Paris office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and Jewish and other sites in France.
Hollande declared a national emergency and three days of national mourning. He vowed to be “merciless” with the country’s foes following what he called unprecedented terrorist attacks.
Three suicide bombs targeted spots around the national stadium Stade de France, north of the capital, where Hollande was watching an exhibition soccer match between the French and German national teams.
Around the same time, fusillades of bullets shattered the clinking of wine glasses in a trendy Paris neighbourhood as gunmen targeted a string of popular cafés, crowded on an unusually balmy November night. At least 37 people were killed, according to Paris prosecutor François Molins.
The attackers next stormed a concert hall, the Bataclan, hosting the American rock band Eagles of Death Metal, opened fire on the panicked audience and took members hostage. As police closed in, three detonated explosive belts, killing themselves, according to Paris police chief Michel Cadot.
Another attacker detonated a suicide bomb on Boulevard Voltaire, near the music hall, the prosecutor’s office said.
The Bataclan was the scene of the worst carnage, where anywhere from 87 to 112 people were killed, according to various reports.
“It was gruesome,” said American journalist and documentary maker Shane McMillan, who was staying one door over from the concert hall. He told CBC News the courtyard of the building where he stayed along with others became a spontaneous triage place where the injured had been brought.
The other sites under attack include:
- La Belle Equipe bar, 92 rue de Charonne Blvd. in the 11th arrondissement, where 18 people died.
- Le Carillon restaurant, 18 Alibert St., and Le Petit Cambodge, 20 Alibert St., in the 10th arrondissement, where 14 died in total.
- Voltaire Blvd., where one person was killed.
- De la Fontaine au Roi St., where five deaths were reported.
Video shot from an apartment balcony and posted on the Le Monde website Saturday captured some of the horror as dozens of people fled from gunfire outside the Bataclan down a passageway to a side street.
At least one person lies writhing on the ground as scores more stream past, some of them bloodied or limping. The camera pans down the street to reveal more fleeing people dragging two bodies along the ground. Two other people can be seen hanging by their hands from upper-floor balcony railings in an apparent desperate bid to stay out of the line of fire.
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Sylvain, a tall, sturdy 38-year-old concert-goer, collapsed in tears as he recounted the attack, the chaos and his escape during a lull in gunfire.
“I was watching the concert in the pit, in the midst of the mass of the audience. First I heard explosions, and I thought it was firecrackers.
“Very soon I smelled powder, and I understood what was happening. There were shots everywhere, in waves. I lay down on the floor. I saw at least two shooters, but I heard others talk. They cried, ‘It’s Hollande’s fault.’ I heard one of the shooters shout, ‘Allahu Akbar,’ ” Sylvain told The Associated Press, asking that only his first name be used.
He was among dozens of survivors offered counselling and blankets in a municipal building set up as a crisis centre.
Jihadis on Twitter immediately praised the attackers and criticized France’s military operations against Islamic State extremists.
In a televised Friday night address, Hollande announced renewed border checks along frontiers that are normally open under Europe’s free-travel zone.
French Interior Minister Cazeneuve has authorized local authorities to impose curfews if deemed necessary.