October 25, 2016

Paris attack: IS says France is ‘top target’ for its actions in Syria

President says France will defend itself after at least 120 people killed in series of gun and bomb attacks across Paris.

The French president, François Hollande, has said a wave of gun attacks and suicide bombings that killed more than 120 people across Paris were orchestrated as an “act of war” by Islamic State.

The terror group responded less than an hour later, claiming responsibility for Friday’s attacks and saying they were designed to show France it would remain a “top target” as long as it continued its policies in Syria.

A statement purportedly released by Isis said its fighters strapped with suicide bombing belts and carrying machine guns carried out the attacks in various locations in the heart of the French capital following careful organisation.

The statement said: “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 odour 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.”

Hollande in turn described the deadliest terrorist attack on Europe since the 2004 train bombings in Madrid as a “cowardly act of war”, adding that France would defend itself.

Six sites in the French capital were targeted on Friday evening; gunmen opened fire at a rock concert and on customers in restaurants, and a series of bombs were detonated near the Stade de France, where the national football team was playing Germany in an international friendly. At least eight attackers are dead, seven of them in suicide bombings. Witnesses to one shooting said police had told them at least one attacker was still at large.

In the bloodiest incident, 87 people were reported killed inside the Bataclan concert venue in the 11th arrondissement, when gunmen opened fire on the crowd during a concert by US rock group Eagles of Death Metal.

Many people in the crowd were reportedly held hostage until armed police stormed the venue. Some of those inside the Bataclan told reporters three of the attackers detonated suicide belts as the French security forces closed in.

Video footage shot from outside the venue showed dead bodies in the street, dozens of people running from the entrance and survivors dragging the injured to safety. Witnesses described the scene inside the venue as a “bloodbath”.

Police confirmed that six separate attacks had taken place across Paris in little over two hours. There were casualties at the following locations:

Bataclan theatre – 87 people killed
Stade de France – unknown number killed
Boulevard de Charonne – 18 reported killed
Boulevard Voltaire – one killed
Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi – five killed
Rue Alibert – 14 killed

Earlier reports suggested that as many as 157 people had been killed, before the Bataclan death toll was revised down significantly. The latest death toll from French prosecutors stands at 128. A further 200 people were injured, at least 99 of them seriously.

In a statement in Paris on Saturday morning, Hollande said: “I pay homage to the country’s defenders who fought the terrorists yesterday. Everyone has given their upmost and will be putting in their best efforts in the day to come.”

He called the attacks “cowardly” and said every measure would be taken to fight what he called the terrorist threat. “In this most serious and uncertain time, I call for unity and courage. Even if France is wounded, she will rise.” He put the death toll at 127.

The Paris prosecutor, François Molins, said at least eight attackers had been killed across the city, seven of them in suicide bombings. One witness told the Guardian that officers had told him at least one of the attackers was still at large.

Mark Colclough, a British-Danish psychotherapist, was standing near a cafe 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. 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. I saw it had a magazine beneath it.”

Colclough said the man was left-handed and shooting in short bursts. “It was fully intentional, professional bursts of three or four shots. Everything he was wearing was tight, either boots or shoes and the trousers were tight, the jumper he was wearing was tight, no zippers or collars. Everything was black.

“If you think of what a combat soldier looks like, that is it – just without the webbing. Just a man in military uniform, black jumper, black trousers, black shoes or boots and a machine-gun.”

Colclough said police had told him the killer he shad seen had not been caught. “We were taken to the police station to give a witness statement. The gunman we saw has not been apprehended. They confirmed that on the way out. We asked if it was safe to walk home and they said definitely not.”

Paris authorities told people to stay indoors if possible and closed the Métro system.

The attacks come 10 months after 20 people were killed during attacks by Islamist gunmen on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, located close to the Bataclan theatre, and at a kosher supermarket in Paris.

Hollande, who was attending the friendly match against Germany at the Stade de France at the time of Friday night’s attacks, cancelled plans to attend this weekend’s G20 summit in Turkey. In a TV address to the nation, he declared a state of emergency, and closed the country’s borders.

The events brought immediate international condemnation, with Barack Obama calling it “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share”.

The US president said he did not want to speculate on who might have carried out the attacks, but said his country was ready to help “our oldest ally”. He said: “Those who think they can terrorise France or their values are wrong. Liberté, égalité and fraternité are values that we share, and they are going to endure far beyond any act of terrorism.”

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said she was “deeply shaken by the news and pictures” from Paris.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, who is still expected to travel to the G20 summit, said he was shocked by the events. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the French people. We will do whatever we can to help,” he said.

Other world leaders, including many arriving in Vienna for peace talks on Syria, also condemned the attacks. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister called them “heinous”.

“I want to express our condolences to the government and people of France for the heinous terrorist attacks that took place yesterday, which are in violation and contravention of all ethics, morals and religions,” Adel al-Jubeir said.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long called for more intensified international efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism in all its forms and shapes.”

Speaking from Moscow, the Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, said Russia shared “the sadness and the pain of the French people”. “Terrorist crimes are not and cannot be justified. The Paris tragedy requires of us all to unite in the fight against extremism, to bring a strong answer to terrorists’ actions,” he said.

At the Bataclan tconcert hall, concertgoer Julien Pearce said he had seen two or three men armed with Kalashnikov-type rifles burst in midway through the event and “shoot blindly at the crowd” for several minutes.

“Everyone was running in all directions,” he said. “It was a stampede and I was trampled on. I saw a lot of people hit by bullets. The gunmen had loads of time to reload at least three times. They weren’t masked. They knew what they were doing. They were very young.”

As the massacre unfolded inside, hundreds of officers carrying machine-guns surrounded the building before storming it.

Marc Coupris, 57, still shaking after being freed from the Bataclan theatre, said: “It was carnage. It looked like a battlefield. There was blood everywhere, there were bodies everywhere. I was at the far side of the hall when the shooting began. There seemed to be at least two gunmen. They shot from the balcony.

“Everyone scrabbled to the ground. I was on the ground with a man on top of me and another one beside me up against a wall. We just stayed still like that. At first we kept quiet. I don’t know how long we stayed like that. It seemed like an eternity.”

A man running down the street from the venue told reporters: “It was horrible. There were so many corpses. I just can’t talk about it.”

The French television station BFMTV said the gunmen who attacked the concert hall had shouted “This is for Syria” before opening fire.

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