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Updated - Islamic State claims responsibility for Paris terrorist attack

Hollande calls Paris violence an act of war

Last updated 7.20pm - Gunmen and bombers attacked busy restaurants, bars a concert hall and pedestrians at locations around Paris, killing at least 129 people in four locations in what a shaken President Francois Hollande described as an unprecedented terrorist attack.

This evening, the French authorities updated the media with the number of victims - 129 were killed, 300 are injured, 99 in serious condition. Seven gunmen were killed.

A Paris city hall official said four gunmen systematically slaughtered at least 90 young people attending a rock concert at the Bataclan music hall. Anti-terrorist commandos eventually launched an assault on the building. The gunmen detonated explosive belts and dozens of shocked survivors were rescued.

Dozen more people were killed in five other attacks in the Paris region, the city hall official said, including an apparent double suicide bombing outside the national stadium, where Hollande and the German foreign minister were watching a friendly soccer international. Some 200 people were injured.

General view of the scene where a victim is seen on the sidewalk outside a cafe near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris.General view of the scene where a victim is seen on the sidewalk outside a cafe near the Bataclan concert hall following fatal shootings in Paris.

Islamic State claimed responsibility this morning for attacks that killed over 150 people in Paris, saying it sent militants strapped with suicide bombing belts and carrying machine guns to various locations in the heart of the capital.

The attacks, described by France's president as an act of war, were designed to show the country would remain in danger as long as it continued its current policies, Islamic State said in a statement.

"To teach France, and all nations following its path, that they will remain at the top of Islamic State's list of targets, and that the smell of death won't leave their noses as long as they partake in their crusader campaign," said the group.

A Greek minister was quoted as saying the holder of a Syrian passport found near the body of one of the gunmen passed though Greece in October.

"The holder of the passport passed through the island of Leros on Oct. 3, 2015, where he was identified according to EU rules," said Greece's deputy minister in charge of police, Nikos Toscas.

Toscas did not know if the passport was checked by other countries through which the holder possibly passed on his way to France. A Greek police source said French authorities had asked other countries in Europe, including Greece, to check on the passport

French President Francois Hollande said the violence was organised from abroad by Islamic State with internal help.

"Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action," he said, without saying what that meant.

Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action

The attacks at a stadium, concert hall and cafes and restaurants in northern and eastern Paris were "an act of war committed by Daesh that was prepared, organised and planned from outside (of France)" with help from inside France, Hollande said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Earlier on Saturday, Islamic State distributed an undated video threatening to attack France if bombings of its fighters continued.

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.

Hollande said the attacks were "an act of war".

The location of the Islamic State fighters in the video was not clear and it was not possible to determine when it was filmed, but the message was unmistakable.

The fighters, who appeared to be French citizens, sat cross-legged in a group wearing fatigues and holding weapons in what appeared to be a wooded area. The video showed the militants burning passports.

"Indeed you have been ordered to fight the infidel wherever you find him - what are you waiting for?," said Abu Maryam.

"Know that jihad in this time is obligatory on all."

Another militant, identified as Abu Salman the Frenchman, said: "There are weapons and cars available and targets ready to be hit. Even poison is available, so poison the water and food of at least one of the enemies of Allah."

"Terrorize them and do not allow them to sleep due to fear and horror," he added.

Foreign fighters who join Islamic State, the group which controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria, are seen as especially dangerous because Western passports enable them to live in and travel to Western countries undetected.

Another militant in the video, identified as Abu Osama the Frenchman, appealed to Muslims living in France to head to Syria to wage jihad, in "a message from your French brothers".

"Jihad is the path of Allah You strengthen their economy and pay taxes which they use to fight us, and kill our sister, our women and our children," he said.

"Are you not embarrassed? Repent to your Lord and come join us. Because a day may come when the borders will be closed and you will be left only with tears and regret."

Paris Public Prosecutor Francois Molins said eight assailants had also died, seven of whom had blown themselves up with explosive belts at various locations, while one had been shot dead by police.

"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.

After being whisked from the soccer stadium near the blasts, Hollande declared a nationwide state of emergency - the first since the end of World War Two - and announced the closure of France's borders to stop perpetrators escaping.

The Paris metro railway was closed and schools, universities and municipal buildings were ordered to stay shut on Saturday. However some rail and air services are expected to run.

"This is a horror," the visibly shaken president said in a midnight television address to the nation before chairing an emergency cabinet meeting.

He later went to the scene of the bloodiest attack, the Bataclan music hall, and vowed that the government would wage a "merciless" fight against terrorism.

All 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.

The prosecutor's spokeswoman said she could not say whether any gunmen were still at large.

The deadliest attack was on the Bataclan, a popular concert venue where the Californian rock group Eagles of Death Metal was performing. The concert hall is just a few hundred metres from the former offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, target of a deadly attack by Islamist gunmen in January.

Some witnesses in the hall said they heard the gunmen shout Islamic chants and slogans condemning France's role in Syria.

"We know where these attacks come from," Hollande said, without naming any individual group. "There are indeed good reasons to be afraid."

HIGH ALERT

France has been on high alert ever since the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket in Paris in January killed 18 people.

Those attacks briefly united France in defence of freedom of speech, with a mass demonstration of more than a million people. But that unity has since broken down, with far-right populist Marine Le Pen gaining on both mainstream parties by blaming immigration and Islam for France's security problems.

There are indeed good reasons to be afraid

It was not clear what political impact the latest attacks would have less than a month before regional elections in which Le Pen's National Front is set to make further advances.

The governing Socialist Party and the National Front suspended their election campaigns. Ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, now leader of the main conservative opposition party, said, "The terrorists have declared war on France" and backed the state of emergency and border closure.

Hollande cancelled plans to travel to Turkey at the weekend for a G20 summit. He called an emergency meeting of his national security council for 9 a.m.  

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel led a global chorus of solidarity with France and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the "despicable attacks" and demanded the release of the hostages.

Julien Pearce, a journalist from Europe 1 radio, was inside the concert hall when the shooting began. In an eyewitness report posted on the station's website, Pearce said several very young individuals, who were not wearing masks, entered the hall during the concert, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and started "blindly shooting at the crowd".

"There were bodies everywhere," he said.

The gunmen shot their victims in the back, finishing some off at point-blank range before reloading their guns and firing again, Pearce said, after escaping into the street by a stage door, carrying a wounded girl on his shoulder.

Toon, a 22 year-old messenger who lives near the Bataclan, was going into the concert hall with two friends at around 10.30 p.m. when he saw three young men dressed in black and armed with machine guns. He stayed outside.

One of the gunmen began firing into the crowd. "People were falling like dominoes," he told Reuters. He said he saw people shot in the leg, shoulder and back, with several lying on the floor, apparently dead.

There was no immediate verifiable claim of responsibility but supporters of the Islamic State militant group, which controls swathes of Iraq and Syria, said in Twitter messages that the group carried them out.

"The State of the caliphate hit the house of the cross," one tweet said.

Two explosions were heard near the Stade de France in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, where the France-Germany friendly soccer match was being played. The blasts were audible on television during the live broadcast.

A witness said one of the detonations blew people into the air outside a McDonald's restaurant opposite the stadium.

The match continued until the end, but panic broke out in the crowd as rumours of the attack spread, and spectators were held in the stadium and assembled spontaneously on the pitch.

Police helicopters circled the stadium as Hollande was rushed back to the interior ministry to deal with the situation.

In central Paris, shooting erupted in mid-evening outside a Cambodian restaurant in the capital's 10th district.

 

Eighteen people were killed when a gunman opened fire on Friday night diners sitting at outdoor terraces in the popular Charonne area nearby in the 11th district.

The prosecutor mentioned five locations in close proximity where shootings took place around the same time.

The Paris carnage came within days of attacks claimed by Islamic State militants on a Shi'ite Muslim district of southern Beirut in Lebanon, and a Russian tourist aircraft which crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Earlier, the United States and Britain said they had launched an attack in the Syrian town of Raqqa on a British Islamic State militant known as "Jihadi John", but it was not certain whether he had been killed. 

Various world leaders expressed solidarity with France in the wake of the attacks, including Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

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