PARIS: French President Francois Hollande promised a “merciless” response to the wave of attacks by gunmen and bombers that killed at least 129 people across Paris on Friday (Saturday morning in Pakistan).
The president described the assault claimed by the militant Islamic State (IS) group as “an act of war” against France.
“France will be merciless towards these barbarians from Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
“Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action,” Mr Hollande said after an emergency meeting of security chiefs. He also announced three days of national mourning.
In the worst attack, four gunmen systematically slaughtered 87 young people at a rock concert at the Bataclan concert hall before anti-terrorist commandos launched an assault on the building. A number of survivors were rescued.
At least 40 more people were killed in five other attacks in the Paris region, including an apparent double suicide bombing outside the Stade de France national stadium, where Mr Hollande and the German foreign minister were watching a friendly soccer international between the two countries.
The assaults came as France, a founder member of the US-led coalition waging air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq, was on high alert for terrorist attacks.
•At least 129 killed in worst atrocity in Paris since WWII
•Six places come under terrorist attack
•Fallout feared on refugees migrating to Europe
It was the worst terrorist attack in Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, in which 191 died. It was also the worst atrocity in Paris since World War II.
Mr Hollande said the attacks had been organised from abroad by IS, with internal help.
Sources close to the investigation said one of the dead gunmen was French with ties to Muslim militants. Syrian and Egyptian passports were found near the bodies of two of the suicide bombers.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement: “The war we must wage should be total.”
In its claim of responsibility, IS said the attacks were a response to France’s campaign against its fighters.
It also distributed an undated video in which a militant said France would not live peacefully as long as it took part in US-led bombing raids against them.
“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 militant, flanked by other fighters.
A government source said there were 129 dead, 87 in critical condition and 116 wounded.
Six attackers blew themselves up and one was shot by police. There may have been an eighth attacker, but this was not confirmed.
The attacks, in which automatic weapons and explosives belts were used, lasted about 40 minutes.
“The terrorists, the murderers, raked several cafe terraces with machine-gun fire before entering (the concert hall). There were many victims in terrible, atrocious conditions in several places,” police prefect Michel Cadot told reporters.
STATE OF EMERGENCY: After being whisked from the stadium after the blasts there, Mr Hollande declared a national state of emergency, the first since World War II. Border controls were temporarily re-imposed to stop perpetrators escaping.
Emergency services were mobilised, police leave was cancelled, 1,500 army reinforcements were drafted into the Paris region and hospitals recalled staff to cope with the casualties.
Radio stations warned Parisians to stay at home and urged residents to give shelter to anyone caught out in the street.
The deadliest attack was on the Bataclan, a popular concert venue where the Californian rock group ‘Eagles of Death Metal’ was performing.
Some witnesses in the hall said they heard the gunmen shout Islamic chants and slogans condemning France’s role in Syria.
The hall is near the former offices of the controversial weekly ‘Charlie Hebdo’. France has been on high alert since gunmen attacked the paper and a kosher supermarket in January, killing 18 people.
France ordered on Saturday increased security at its sites abroad. Britain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Belgium, Hungary and the Netherlands also tightened security measures.
SCAPEGOATING REFUGEES: After the attacks, some populist leaders around Europe rushed to demand an end to an influx of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa.
The carnage in the French capital, directly linked to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, seemed bound to further complicate the European Union’s task in sharing out hundreds of thousands of migrants who have entered the bloc this year, after fleeing war and poverty.
Poland said the attacks meant it could not take its share of migrants under a European Union plan. Many of the migrants currently flooding into Europe are refugees from Syria.
Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2015