Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a bloody wave of bombings and shootings across Paris that left nearly 130 people dead and which the French president, François Hollande, denounced as an “act of war” that must be countered “mercilessly”.
Police reported that at least 128 people had been killed and up to 300 more injured – including 80 critically – in the six attacks, France’s deadliest since the second world war and the worst witnessed in Europe since the 2004 Madrid railway bombings.
Eight militants also died, seven in suicide bombings and one from police gunshot wounds. Police sources told French media that at least one of the fighters, a French national, had been identified by his fingerprints and was known to security services; a Syrian and an Egyptian passport were found close to the bodies of two others, but it was not yet clear that they belonged to the killers.
Isis said it had dispatched the jihadis, 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 dared to insult our prophet, for having boasted of fighting Islam in France and striking Muslims in the caliphate with their planes,” the group said in a statement.
The Swedish, Belgian and Romanian governments said their citizens were among those who died and there were fears a British man had also lost his life. Frantic friends and relatives mounted a desperate social media search to identify victims, with few details of their identities yet confirmed.
Hollande described the attacks as cowardly and “an act of war” that had been carefully “prepared, organised and planned from outside the country by Islamic State, but with help from inside”. The president added: “We will be merciless toward the barbarians of Islamic State group. Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action.” But 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”, Hollande said, calling for “unity and courage”. France would observe three days of official mourning, he added.
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 French capital were cancelled, major shops, department stores, museums and tourist sites – including the Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Disneyland – stayed closed, and several metro stations were also shut.
No arrests were announced in Paris, and a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office, Agnès Thibault-Lecuivre, said authorities couldn’t rule out the possibility that other militants involved in the attack remained at large. Police said they were were screening hours of CCTV footage from the six locations where the attacks took place.
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 be linked to the attacks.
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 said: “Indeed, you have been ordered to fight the infidel wherever you find him. What are you waiting for? There are weapons and cars available and targets ready to be hit.”