Militant group claims responsibility as death toll rises to 127 people; hundreds injured
By Matthew Dalton, Thomas Varela and Inti Landauro
PARIS—French President François Hollande on Saturday vowed a “merciless” response to Islamic State, claiming the extremist group was responsible for the well-coordinated terrorist attacks across Paris that left at least 127 people dead and the French capital in a state of shock.
“It is an act of war that was waged by a terrorist army, a jihadist army, by Daesh, against France,” Mr. Hollande said, using an Arabic name for Islamic State. “This act of war was prepared and planned from the outside, with accomplices inside,” he added, saying France would respond to the attacks.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks on a social media account, but didn’t provide specification information that would allow the claim to be verified. It said the attacks were retaliation for French airstrikes against the group in Syria and Iraq.
“France, because it was freely, cowardly attacked, will be merciless against the terrorists,” Mr. Hollande said in an address to the nation broadcast on French TV. “France will triumph over barbarism.”
Mr. Hollande didn’t cite intelligence or give an explanation for attributing the attacks to Islamic State.
Gunmen attacked several targets across Paris on Friday evening leaving more than 120 dead and hundreds injured. A spokeswomen for the Paris prosecutor’s office said eight “terrorists” were killed, seven of them in suicide bombings.
The French president declared three days of mourning and said he would address the two houses of parliament in Versailles on Monday.
Famed Parisian museums such as the Louvre and departments stores such as Le Printemps and Les Galeries Lafayettes closed on Saturday. Many other shops were also shut, leaving the city’s normally busy streets less bustling than usual.
Mr. Hollande was speaking after convening a meeting of security and defense ministers to plot a response to the bloody attacks. The government has already declared a state of emergency, reinstituting border checks and closing schools.
Friday’s attacks are shaping up to be the bloodiest consequence yet of France’s entanglement in Syria’s civil war. Hundreds of French have traveled to Syria since 2011 to fight with groups there, and more than 400 remain there.
The complexity of the French attacks—coordinated between 8 different perpetrators in multiple locations—plus their apparent use of suicide belts suggests that they had support from an extensive terrorist network, terrorism experts said.
“They must have had several kilograms of explosives, they had suicide vests and they did blow themselves up,” said Thomas Hegghammer, director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment. “All of that is very rare on European soil.”
The sheer scale of Friday’s mayhem—six separate attacks—left authorities reeling. The government declared a state of emergency, sending military forces onto the streets of Paris, sealing off roads and reinstating border controls. Sirens blared across the city as police and emergency workers rushed to respond.
Authorities said early Saturday they believed all the attackers were dead. Yet the seemingly coordinated attacks left France’s intelligence and security services facing one of their worst nightmare scenarios: several armed groups moving undetected and wreaking havoc simultaneously.
The most deadly attack was a shootout at the Bataclan, a concert hall, where hostages were taken before gunman blew themselves up using explosive belts when police moved in, authorities said.
There were other shootings in the city’s 10th and 11th arrondissements and at least two explosions outside the Stade de France soccer stadium.
The assaults are the second time this year Paris has come under attack by marauding gunmen. In January, the capital was hit by attackers claiming allegiance to Islamic State and an al Qaeda affiliate who killed 17 people, including many at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
World leaders condemned the attacks and offered to support the French authorities in bringing those responsible to justice.
President Barack Obama on Friday made nationally televised remarks, branding the attacks a terrorist act and vowing U.S. assistance.
On Saturday top European officials condemned the attacks and expressed deep shock but also their solidarity with France and the French people.
“This attack is an outrage against France, and against Europe as a whole,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council wrote in a letter to Mr. Hollande.
The sentiment was echoed by many European Union officials, representing the bloc’s top institutions and the 28 countries that make it up.
—Sam Dagher in Beirut, Viktoria Dendrinou in Brussels and Noemie Bisserbe and Jason Chow in Paris contributed to this article.