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Paris terror attacks 'carried out by three coordinated teams of gunmen'

Three coordinated teams of jihadi gunmen struck at six different sites across Paris in a bloody wave of suicide bombings and shootings that left nearly 130 people dead, the Paris public prosecutor has said.

François Molins told a news conference on Saturday that at least 129 people were killed and 352 more injured - including 90 critically - in the attacks on Friday night on the Stade de France, a city-centre concert hall and a series of packed cafes and bars.

Molins said three French nationals had been arrested in Belgium, where they all lived, in connection with the attacks, France's deadliest since the second world war and the worst witnessed in Europe since the 2004 Madrid railway bombings.

Islamic State on Saturday claimed responsibility for the atrocities, which the French president, François Hollande, denounced as an "act of war" that must be countered "mercilessly".

As police worked to identify the seven militants, all of whom died in the attacks, Molins also confirmed that at least one of the fighters, identified by his fingerprints, was a French national from the Paris suburb of Courcouronnes. The man, born in 1985, had a criminal record and had been flagged as an extremist as early as 2010, the prosecutor said.

Relatives of one of the attackers, a Frenchman born in the Paris suburbs, were later arrested on Saturday, according to French authorities who said that searches were underway.

Molins also said earlier that a Syrian passport, belonging to a man born in 1990 who was not known to the French authorities, had been found lying close by the bodies of two other jihadis, who both blew themselves up in the course of their attacks.

Greece's citizen protection minister, Nikos Toskas, said earlier that that the passport's owner had entered the European Union through the Greek island of Leros on 3 October, adding: "We do not know if the passport was checked by other countries through which the holder likely passed."

A government official in Athens told the Guardian: "We found the serial number and we found the finger prints and palm prints that are also taken [from every refugee]." But he warned against "automatically concluding" that the passport holder was the assailant.

"It is now up to the French authorities to match those finger prints with the remains of the body of the attacker, and announce the identity," the official said. "Either this person passed through Greece posing as a refugee, or along the way he bought or stole the passport. At this stage either scenario is possible."

Greek government sources were later quoted by Reuters as saying that a second man suspected of being among the attackers was likely to have passed through Greece.

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 "possibly be linked" to the attacks.

Isis said it had dispatched eight jihadis - leaving open the possibility that one may still be on the run - 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 odour of death for having led the crusade, for having boasted of fighting Islam in France and striking Muslims in the caliphate with their planes," the group said in a statement.

Molins said the men, who he said operated in three separate teams in the Seat and a black Volkswagen Polo car, all wore identical suicide vests carrying a charge of TATP (triacetone triperoxide) and fitted with batteries and a detonator. They also carried Kalashnikov-style automatic rifles, he said.

The Swedish, Belgian, Romanian and Italian governments said their citizens were among those killed, while at least one Briton and an American were also confirmed dead. Frantic friends and relatives took to social media, using the Twitter hashtag #rechercheParis, to appeal for information about the missing.

Hollande described the attacks as "cowardly" and "an act of war" that had been "prepared, organised and planned from outside the country by Islamic State, but with help from inside". He added: "We will be merciless toward the barbarians of Islamic State group. Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action." 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", the president said, calling for "unity and courage". France would observe three days of official mourning, he said.

The carefully orchestrated series of attacks began at 9.20pm outside the Stade de France stadium outside north of Paris, where three suicide bombers detonated their explosive belts in the course of about 20 minutes. Hollande, who was attending at a friendly football match between France and Germany at the stadium, had to be evacuated by his security guards to the interior ministry.

The Wall Street Journal reported that at least one of the attackers at the Stade de France had a ticket to the France-Germany friendly match on Friday night and tried to enter the venue, citing a security guard who was on duty, as well as French police. The guard said the attacker was discovered wearing an explosives vest when he was searched at the entrance to the stadium about 15 minutes after the game started.

Shortly afterwards, three 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 attacks 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.

Under the first national state of emergency to be declared in France since 1961, an extra 1,500 soldiers were mobilised to reinforce police in Paris, Hollande's office said. All Saturday's sports events in the capital were cancelled, while many major shops, department stores, museums and tourist sites - including the Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Disneyland - stayed closed. Several metro stations were also shut.

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 added: "Indeed, you have been ordered to fight the infidel wherever you find him. What are you waiting for?"

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 in the wake of the attacks.

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 89 people lost their lives in the ensuing carnage, Molins said, while 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 dead 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 Rue de Charonne, where 18 people 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.

[Source: By Jon Henley in Paris, The Guardian, London, 14Nov15]

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