Hollande calls Paris attacks an ‘act of war’
French president declares three days of mourning as ISIL claims responsibility for attacks that killed 129 people.
French President Francois Hollande says the attacks in Paris that have killed 129 people were “an act of war” organised from abroad by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group with internal help.
A state of emergency has been declared across France after armed men, some wearing suicide belts, carried out six separate attacks in the French capital on Friday.
“Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action,” Hollande said in a televised address on Saturday, without elaborating further, as ISIL claimed responsibility for the attacks.
He said he would address parliament on Monday in an extraordinary meeting and the country would observe three days of official mourning for the victims.
Friday night’s attacks at a concert hall, stadium and cafes and restaurants in northern and eastern Paris were “an act of war committed by Daesh that was prepared, organised and planned from outside [France]” with help from inside France, Hollande said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL.
“France will not show any pity against the barbaric acts by ISIL. All measures to protect our compatriots and our territory are being taken within the framework of the state of emergency,” he said.
Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said late on Saturday that the attacks had been carried out by three teams of “terrorists”.
Across the border, Belgian police arrested several people in relation to the Paris attacks during searches in a district of Brussels, the Belgian justice minister said on Saturday night.
ISIL claims responsibility
Shortly after Hollande’s televised address on Saturday, ISIL said in a statement that its fighters strapped with suicide bombing belts and carrying machine guns carried out the attacks in various locations which had been carefully studied.
In a video, ISIL called on Muslims to attack France.
“As long as you keep bombing you will not live in peace. You will even fear travelling to the market,” said a bearded Arabic-speaking man, flanked by others.
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The coordinated assault came as France, a member of the US-led coalition waging air strikes against ISIL fighters in Syria and Iraq, was on high alert for attacks ahead of a global climate conference due to open later this month.
The deadliest attack was on the Bataclan, a popular concert venue where a Californian rock group, Eagles of Death Metal, was performing.
The concert hall is just a few hundred metres from the former offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, target of a deadly attack by armed men in January.
“It was carnage in that concert hall,” John Laurenson, a freelance journalist, told Al Jazeera from Paris, adding that the death toll was higher than initially announced.
French media, citing police sources, say that authorities have identified one of the attackers as a young Frenchman, who was flagged in the past for links with “extremist” activities.
The assailants launched at least six gun-and-bomb attacks in rapid succession on apparently indiscriminate civilian targets.
Three suicide bombs targeted spots around the national Stade de France stadium, north of the capital, where Hollande was watching an exhibition football match between France and Germany.
Fans inside the stadium recoiled at the sound of explosions, but the match continued amid rising spectator fears.
Around the same time, attackers targeted a string of cafes in a trendy Paris neighbourhood, which were crowded on an unusually balmy November night.
At least 37 people were killed there, according to Francois Molins, a prosecutor.
The attackers next stormed the Bataclan concert hall. They opened fire on the panicked audience and took some hostage. As police closed in, three detonated explosive belts, killing themselves, according to Michel Cadot, the Paris police chief.
Another attacker detonated a suicide bomb on Boulevard Voltaire, near the music hall, the prosecutor’s office said.
Video shot from an apartment balcony and posted on the Le Monde website on Saturday captured some of that horror as dozens of people fled from gunfire outside the Bataclan down a passageway to a side street.
At least one person is seen 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.
State of emergency
In other decisions, Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced renewed border checks along frontiers that are normally open under Europe’s free-travel zone.
In a televised address on Friday night, he appealed to citizens to maintain “a determined France, a united France, a France that joins together and a France that will not allow itself to be staggered, even if today there is infinite emotion faced with this disaster, this tragedy, which is an abomination, because it is barbarism.”
The Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, cinemas and other tourist sites have been closed indefinitely.
France has been on edge since January, when armed men attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had run cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, and a Jewish supermarket.
Twenty people died in those attacks, including three shooters.
France has seen several smaller-scale attacks or attempts this year, including on a high-speed train in August when American travellers overpowered a heavily armed man.
French authorities are particularly concerned about the threat from hundreds of French fighters who have travelled to Syria and returned home with skills to mount attacks.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Saturday that the policies of some Western countries – including France – in the Middle East are partly responsible for the expansion of “terrorist” attacks.
He urged President Hollande to change his policies and “work for the interest of the French people”.
Assad also criticised the president for ignoring the fact that some of France’s allies support “terrorists” in Syria – a phrase he uses for all armed factions in Syria.