France Hunts IS Accomplices, Fearing Fresh Attacks
by Lisa Bryant November 14, 2015
French authorities raced Saturday to identify the perpetrators of what President Francois Hollande has called an 'act of war' against his country, fearing organizers of the sophisticated assaults may be planning more attacks.
The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks late Friday at six sites across Paris, which left at least 128 dead and hundreds wounded. Eight terrorists also were killed, but it was not clear whether there might be more insurgents or accomplices lurking in Paris neighborhoods.
Hollande also has blamed IS, which has lashed out at countries fighting its attempt to establish a 'caliphate' in Syria and Iraq.
But a French counterterrorism official said authorities are still trying to find out whether the attackers who died in the assault were French residents, where they got their high-powered weapons and, most importantly, whether they have accomplices still waiting to strike. Security has been stepped up to guard against further violence.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon on Saturday claimed it killed a senior IS leader in an airstrike Friday in Libya. Abu Nabil, also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi, was an Iraqi national and longtime al-Qaida operative, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement. He said the action 'demonstrates we will go after ISIL leaders wherever they operate.'
'Top of the list of targets'
In a statement Saturday, the terrorist group said the Paris attacks were a response to airstrikes against IS fighters in Iraq and Syria. The message said France and its supporters 'will remain at the top of the list of targets of the Islamic State.'
WATCH: Related video of world showing support for Paris victims
The claim of responsibility appeared in Arabic and French in a statement circulated online by IS supporters. It was not immediately possible to confirm authenticity of the statement, which bore the IS logo and resembled previous statements by the extremist group, but terrorism experts did not dispute its validity.
'The stench of death will not leave their noses,' IS said of France's leaders, 'as long as they remain at the forefront of the Crusaders' campaign, dare to curse our prophet, boast of a war with Islam in France, and strike Muslims in the lands of the caliphate with warplanes that were of no use to them in the streets and rotten alleys of Paris.'
Hollande on Saturday declared three days of national mourning following the attacks across the capital city.
'Triumph over this barbarity'
Vowing to hunt down the attackers, Hollande said, 'France will triumph over this barbarity.' He called an emergency Cabinet meeting and mobilized France's security forces at the 'highest levels.'
People across France woke up Saturday to a nationwide state of emergency.
Hollande, who called off his trip to Turkey for a G-20 meeting scheduled to begin Sunday, asked Paris residents to stay inside Saturday. Those who venture out are finding many stores closed and a ramped-up security presence, with 1,500 soldiers deployed to the French capital's streets.
But residents and even tourists are flocking to blood banks to donate blood for the dozens of victims.
Paris resident Adama Ndoye waited in a long line to give blood Saturday morning, just across the street from a pair of night spots targeted in the attacks.
Ndoye, originally from Senegal, said he hoped his blood would help at least one of those wounded in the assault. He looked at others in line, saying Christians, Muslims and Jews all had assembled to help out.
Flowers, candles and notes were strewn in front of Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, where gunmen killed at least a dozen people. Both are popular spots located near the Saint Martin canal in northern Paris.
Such acts of solidarity are taking place around the city, as Parisians come to grips with the scale of their second major terrorist attack this year. Friday's assault evoked memories of an attack by Islamist gunmen in January that killed 17 people, including staff members of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
The president ordered France's borders closed – an unprecedented act in 21st-century Europe. However, the main airport remains open and trains are still running.
On Friday night, at least 82 people died at the Bataclan concert hall when several gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons before taking scores of people hostage. Police later stormed the building, killing at least one attacker. Others may have died in suicide bombings.
At least 1,000 people were in the Bataclan audience, where a performance by an American band, the Eagles of Death Metal, was interrupted by rapid gunfire. Many people escaped during the shootout.
On Saturday, a young woman called Solveig was trying to reach her boyfriend, who lives near the Bataclan. Police were still blocking his street and he couldn't get out. Solveig said her boyfriend heard firing at the Bataclan, then saw about a dozen people sprinting out a back door. He barricaded himself in his bathroom. One of his neighbors was shot while dragging in a wounded man to safety.
Fatalities were also reported in other parts of Paris. One of the first explosions was just outside a sports stadium where Hollande and a large crowd were watching a football (soccer) match between the French and German national teams.
The blast was felt inside the stadium. Police evacuated Hollande from the stadium, but when play was stopped many people in the crowd ran onto the field and huddled in fear.
Several other explosions took place in that area and officials say at least one may have been a suicide bombing.
Authorities say about 200 people were wounded Friday, 80 of them seriously.
On Saturday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo extended sympathies to victims, their families and friends, saying 'pain is something we share.' But she vowed that the city and its people would 'be stronger than those who want to reduce us to silence.'
In Washington, President Barack Obama said the United States was ready to help in any way possible. He called the coordinated attacks in Paris an 'outrageous attempt to terrorize civilians.'
National security meeting
Obama was meeting with the National Security Council to review the latest intelligence data on the Paris attacks before leaving for the G-20 meeting, scheduled for about 2:20 p.m. EST (1920 GMT).
Before departing Vienna for Antalya, Secretary of State John Kerry will participate in the NSC meeting via video teleconference.
Vice President Joe Biden said 'such savagery can never threaten who we are.' Kerry described the attacks as 'heinous, evil' and 'vile.'
Earlier Friday, the Pentagon said it was 'reasonably certain' a drone strike had killed Mohammed Emwazi, the Islamic State militant popularly known as 'Jihadi John' from videos in which he's shown executing people, including three Americans. The Kuwait-born British man had lived in west London for years before traveling to Syria to join IS.
U.S. officials said the embassy in France has been checking on the safety of all Americans in Paris. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in Washington that there was 'no specific or credible threat to the United States.' But security has been stepped up in some major U.S. cities as a precaution.
In a letter to Hollande, European Council President Donald Tusk said 'We will ensure that the tragic, shameful act of terrorism against Paris fails in its purpose: to divide, to frighten, and to undermine liberty, equality and fraternity, the values that make France a great nation.'
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, in remarks Saturday, said, 'It is clear that the threat from ISIL is evolving' and that, despite high security, he and his countrymen 'must be prepared for a number of British casualties.'
'The terrorist aim here is to divide us and destroy our way of life,' Cameron said, urging solidarity. He promised help to France, saying, 'Your pain is our pain, your fight is our fight.'
'Despicable terrorist attacks'
At the United Nations, a spokesman said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 'condemns the despicable terrorist attacks' and 'demands the immediate release of the numerous individuals reportedly being held hostage in the Bataclan theater.'
A statement from the Vatican said Pope Francis was following the 'terrible news' out of Paris. 'We are shocked by this new manifestation of maddening terrorist violence and hatred which we condemn in the most radical way together with the Pope and all those who love peace,' the Vatican statement said.
Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told VOA the Paris attacks 'all look like they were coordinated to have maximum impact, and to send a message.'
'It demonstrates that there are a lot of vulnerabilities in open societies that can be exploited by whatever terrorist groups are carrying out these actions,' Katulis said.
Paris is due to host a major U.N.-sponsored conference beginning November 30 on the international effort to control global warming.
VOA White House Correspondent Aru Pande, National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin, Luis Ramirez, Lisa Bryant from Paris, and Jamie Dettmer contributed to this report.
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