The Islamic State on Saturday claimed responsibility for a coordinated assault by gunmen and bombers that killed at least 129 people across various locations in Paris, even as a Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the attackers.
Police did not say where exactly the passport was found, although they indicated a possible Syrian connection was a working hypothesis for investigators after assailants hit six separate locations in Paris late on Friday.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins confirmed in a news conference that 129 people were killed and 352 people got injured in the terror attacks. According to the prosecutor 99 of the injured are in critical condition.
Molins also said that three teams of terrorists seem to have coordinated the Paris attacks.
IS claims attack
The IS issued statements in French and Arabic claiming the attacks hours after President Francois Hollande vowed to launch a “merciless” attack on the dreaded jihadist group.
Hollande called Friday night’s shootings at Paris cafes, suicide bombings near France’s national stadium and a hostage-taking slaughter inside a concert hall -- all in under an hour -- “an act of war that was prepared, organised, planned from abroad with internal help”.
“Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action. All measures to protect our compatriots and our territory are being taken within the framework of the state of emergency,” he said after the deadliest attacks to hit the nation since World War II.
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 of Friday’s attacks.
In a statement, the Islamic State said eight fighters “wrapped in explosive belts and armed with rifles” carried out the synchronised attacks. All were killed.
It said the assaults were designed to show France would remain a top target as long as the country continued its current policies -- a reference to Paris’ leading role in a global coalition bombing IS targets in Syria and Iraq.
The IS also released an undated video in which the group’s foreign media arm, Al-Hayat Media Centre, made threats through several militants who called on French Muslims to carry out attacks.
“As long as you keep bombing you will not live in peace. You will even fear traveling to the market,” said one of the militants, identified as Abu Maryam the Frenchman.
France has been on edge since January, when Islamic extremists attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had run cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, and a kosher grocery. Twenty people died in those attacks, including three shooters.
The coordinated assault on Friday evening came as France, a founder member of the US-led coalition waging air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, was on high alert for terrorist attacks ahead of a global climate conference due to begin later this month.
Experts said the brazen strikes were a copycat of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks with militants choosing crowded locations in Paris and food joints.
“The militants opened fired at a Paris restaurant like at Mumbai’s Leopold café during the 26/11 attacks. Similarly, crowded areas such as Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) were targeted as the attackers targeted packed stadiums and rock concert in Paris,” said V Balachandran, former special secretary and a member of a commission that probed the 26/11 violence.
As news of the bloodbath spread, world leaders united in sympathy and indignation, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying the people of India felt “the shock, pain and outrage of the people of France”.
“India stands firmly with the great people of France in dealing with the tragedy. And we must stand together as humanity in combating the major global threat to our times and uphold our values and our way of life,” he said.
Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj confirmed no Indian had died.
Divided on many issues, including the war in Syria that has fuelled Islamist violence, the United States and Russia both voiced their support in messages to Hollande.
“Once again we’ve seen an outrageous attempt to terrorise innocent civilians,” said US President Barack Obama. “We stand prepared and ready to provide whatever assistance that the government and the people of France need.” Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his deep condolences to Hollande.
A defiant France also refused to cancel a landmark climate conference in Paris that begins on November 30 and is expected to see over 100 heads of state in attendance but strengthened security measures.
The cold blooded massacre was part of what terror experts call a “high impact, low cost” attack that are difficult to apprehend due to the use of simple weapons and minimum logistical backup.
As Hollande addressed the nation, authorities expressed concern that many of the attackers could be home-grown as an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Europeans have flocked to join the IS ranks -- with France being the single-largest source of recruits.
French anti-terror police worked to identify potential accomplices and said eight died, seven in suicide bombings, a new terror tactic in France. Police said they shot and killed the other assailant.
Three suicide bombs targeted spots around the national Stade de France stadium, where Hollande was watching an exhibition football match. Fans inside the stadium recoiled at the sound of explosions, but the match continued amid rising spectators’ fears.
Around the same time, bullets shattered the clinking of wine glasses in a trendy Paris neighborhood as gunmen targeted a string of crowded cafes, killing at least 37 people.
The deadliest attack was on the Bataclan, a popular concert venue where the Californian rock group Eagles of Death Metal was performing. “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,” said Sylvain, a 38-year-old concert-goer.
(With inputs from agencies)