Call to arms in France amid hunt for Belgian suspect in Paris attacks

President Francois Hollande of France called on Monday for constitutional amendments to fight potential terrorists at home and for an aggressive effort to “eradicate” the Islamic State abroad.

 

His call to arms — “France is at war,” he said at the opening of his remarks to a joint session of Parliament — came as security forces in France and Belgium zeroed in on a suspect they said was the architect of the assault that killed 129 people Friday night in Paris. The suspect, a 27-year-old Belgian, has fought for the Islamic State in Syria and has been linked to other terrorist attacks.

 

Mr. Hollande spoke after the French police raided homes and other sites across the country in an effort to head off possible further attacks and as the authorities in Belgium hunted for a suspected assailant in Friday’s attacks. Mr. Hollande called for quick action by Parliament on new legislation that would give the government more flexibility to conduct police raids without a warrant and place people under house arrest. He said he would seek court advice on broader surveillance powers. And he called for amendments that would enable the state to take exceptional security measures without having to resort to the most drastic options currently in the Constitution. r. Hollande is also seeking to extend the current state of emergency for three months and let the government strip the citizenship of French natives who are convicted of terrorism and hold a second passport.

“Our democracy has prevailed over much more formidable opponents than these cowardly assassins,” Mr. Hollande said a day after France conducted airstrikes against the Syrian city of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State. It was the country’s most intense military strike yet against the radical group, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris.

 

The French leader said he would meet soon with President Obama and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in an effort to settle on a united campaign to wipe out the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

 

“Terrorism will not destroy the republic, because it is the republic that will destroy it,” he said. Three days after the attacks on a soccer stadium, a concert hall and numerous bars and cafes, French and Belgian security services were focused on the radical jihadist they believe was the leader of the plot, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. He is among the most prominent Islamic State fighters to have come out of Belgium. A French official briefed on the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss operational details, said Mr. Abaaoud had mentioned plans to attack “a concert hall” to a French citizen who returned from Syria.

 

Mr. Abaaoud, this official said, had also been in contact with Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, one of the Paris attackers. Mr. Abaaoud also knew another attacker, Ibrahim Abdeslam; they were tried together in 2010 in Belgium for a minor offense.

 

Mr. Hollande said the attacks had been “planned in Syria, organized in Belgium, perpetrated on our soil with French complicity.” The French authorities said Monday that they had conducted 168 raids across the country in an effort to root out possible terrorist threats. The raids extended from the Paris region to the major cities of Lille, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse, they said. They also said they had arrested 23 people and detained 104 others under house arrest.

 

But a Frenchman believed to be involved in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, 26, a brother of Ibrahim Abdeslam, remained at large, eluding a series of raids conducted by the authorities in Molenbeek, the working-class Brussels neighborhood where the brothers lived.

 

A third brother, Mohamed, and four other men who had been detained in Belgium were released on Monday. At a news conference in Brussels, Mohamed said he did not know Salah’s whereabouts and added, “My parents are under shock and have not yet grasped what has happened.” The man believed to be the architect of the plot, Mr. Abaaoud, who traveled to Syria last year and even persuaded his 13-year-old brother to join him there, is from the same neighborhood, Molenbeek, as the Abdeslam brothers. Mr. Abaaoud was already a suspect, according to officials and local news reports, in a failed terrorist plot in Belgium in January and an attempt in August to gun down passengers on a high-speed train to Paris from Brussels. An intelligence official said the authorities feared he might be in Europe.

 

In Washington, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said some American officials suspected that Mr. Abaaoud might still be in Syria. Mr. Abaaoud was most likely part of an Islamic State cell that has developed over the past year to help plan, organize and execute terrorist attacks in Europe, particularly in France, Mr. Schiff said in a telephone interview.

 

The cell is believed to be led by Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, who serves as an official spokesman for the Islamic State, a Defense Department official said Monday.

Mr. Schiff warned that much was still unknown about how much of the plot had been directed from Syria and how much autonomy had been left to conspirators.

Continue reading the main story

 

At noon, France observed a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the attack, which wounded about 350 people, in addition to the 129 killed. The Métro and cars stopped and crowds gathered at a makeshift memorial at the Place de la République and at the Eiffel Tower. Mr. Hollande stood with students at the Sorbonne. Many recited the national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” after the moment passed. In other cities — Delhi; Doha, Qatar; and Dublin — crowds gathered at French embassies to pay their respects.

As France observed its second of three days of national mourning, the authorities in France and Belgium raced to track down suspects and chase leads.

 

At one house in the Rhône department in the southeast, around Lyon, the police found a Kalashnikov rifle, three pistols, ammunition and bulletproof vests. Officers then obtained a warrant to search the home of the parents of a man who lived in the house, where they found several automatic pistols, ammunition, police armbands, military clothing and a rocket launcher.

 

Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve promised to keep up the search. “We are using all the possibilities given to us by the state of emergency, that is to say administrative raids, 24 hours a day,” Mr. Valls said. He vowed to keep intense pressure on “radical Islamism, Salafist groups, all those who preach hatred of the Republic.” The authorities also confirmed on Monday that one of the attackers entered Europe through Greece on a Syrian passport last month, posing as a migrant. The man was identified on his passport — found at the soccer stadium north of Paris where he blew himself up Friday night — as Ahmad al-Mohammad, 25, a native of Idlib, Syria. The holder of the passport passed through the Greek island of Leros on Oct. 3 and the Serbian border town of Presovo on Oct. 7, according to Greek and Serbian officials. It remained unclear whether the passport was authentic.

 

All told, at least four French citizens were among the seven attackers: Ibrahim Abdeslam; Mr. Mostefaï, who met with the man suspected of planning the attacks; and two men identified on Monday as Samy Amimour, 28, a Paris native who lived in the suburb of Drancy, and Bilal Hadfi, 20, who lived in Brussels.

 

Mr. Amimour was known to the French authorities, having been charged in October 2012 with terrorist conspiracy, according to the authorities. He was placed under judicial supervision but violated the terms of that supervision in 2013, prompting the authorities to put out an international arrest warrant. Last December, the French newspaper Le Monde interviewed Mr. Amimour’s father — it did not identify him by name at the time — who had gone to Syria to try to bring back his son. Three members of the Amimour family were detained on Monday.

 

Turkey confirmed on Monday that Mr. Mostefaï, 29, entered Turkey in 2013, but it said that “there is no record of him leaving the country.”

 

A Turkish official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the government flagged Mr. Mostefaï twice — in December and in June — but that “we have, however, not heard back from France on the matter.”

 

He continued, “It was only after the Paris attacks that the Turkish authorities received an information request about Ismaël Omar Mostefaï from France.” The official added that “this is not a time to play the blame game,” but that governments needed to do better at sharing intelligence to prevent terrorism. The United States has provided logistical support for the French airstrikes in Syria, but Mr. Obama on Monday again ruled out a ground intervention.

 

“Let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria,” he said at a gathering of leaders of the Group of 20 industrial and emerging-market economies in Antalya, Turkey. “What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps?”

 

Elsewhere in Europe, the authorities tightened security. Britain announced Monday that it would pay for an additional 1,900 intelligence officers, and review aviation security.

In Washington, John O. Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said Monday that the Paris attacks and the crash of a Russian jet over the Sinai Peninsula bore the “hallmarks” of the Islamic State.

 

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mr. Brennan called the group an “association of murderous sociopaths” that is “not going to content itself with violence inside the Syrian and Iraqi borders.”

 

Wading into the debate over surveillance, privacy and encryption, Mr. Brennan said he hoped the Paris attacks would be a “wake-up call,” adding that “hand-wringing” had weakened the ability of Western intelligence services to prevent attacks.

 

Voice on ISIS recording said to be French jihadist

Investigators have identified the voice on an Islamic State audio recording claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks that was posted online.

Citing a person close to the investigation whom it did not name, the news agency said the voice is believed to be that of Fabien Clain, a 35-year-old Frenchman with known ties to radical Islamist networks in the southern city of Toulouse. He was a close associate of Mohamed Merah, the militant who shot and killed seven people, including three Jewish children, in Toulouse in 2012.

Mr. Clain was convicted of recruiting jihadists in 2009 and was sentenced to five years in prison, the news outlets said; after he was released, he went to Syria.

Hollande wants constitution changes, more security spending

Nov 16: President Francois Hollande said France’s constitution needed to be amended to better deal with crisis situations as he addressed both houses of parliament convened at Versailles.

Hollande said he wanted French law to allow dual nationals to be stripped of their French citizenship if they were convicted of terrorism and dual nationals to be banned from entering France if they presented a “terrorism risk.”

He also pledged to increase budgets for security forces and the army.

“That will lead to higher spending, which I take responsibility for,” Hollande said.

“I consider that in these circumstances, the security pact prevails over the stability pact,” he said, referring to the eurozone budget limits.

After Paris attacks, solidarity throughout the world

In the United States, President Barack Obama declared: “this is an attack on all humanity and the universal values we share…We are ready to provide all the necessary assistance to the French government and people.”

United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon denounced the “despicable terrorist attacks,” and affirmed his “solidarity with the government and French people.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker was “appalled and outraged to see France struck by the most heinous terrorism…I have confidence that the authorities and French people will overcome this challenge together.”

In Great Britain, David Cameron was “shocked” by the attacks in Paris. “Our thoughts and our prayers go out to the French people. We will do all that is possible to help,” he added.

In Germany, Angela Merkel was “profoundly shocked,” by the attacks, according to a press release. “In these hours, my thoughts are with the victims of the terror attacks, their loved ones, and everyone in Paris,” she said.

Italy stands “with its French brothers, against the atrocious attack in Paris and in Europe,” said Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

In Japan, minister of foreign affairs Fumio Kishida expressed his “great indignation. No matter the reasons for the attacks, they are unforgivable and highly condemnable. Japan intends to work with France against the fight against international terrorism.”

France’s Next International Soccer Game Likely Canceled

France’s exhibition soccer game against England, scheduled for Tuesday, will most likely be canceled in the wake of the killings in Paris, British newspapers reported late Friday.

The attacks are certain to lead to tighter security at the UEFA European Championship finals, which France is set to host next summer.

The championships are among the most prestigious in world soccer, but they will present considerable security challenges with 24 international teams set to contest 51 games over 32 days at 10 venues: Bordeaux, Lens, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Paris, Saint-Denis, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse.

The nations taking part are: France, Iceland, Czech Republic, Turkey, Belgium, Wales, Spain, Slovakia, Germany, Poland, England, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Romania, Austria, Russia, Italy, Croatia, Portugal and Albania, and four other countries that have yet to qualify.

Like Friday’s matchup of France and Germany, which took place during the attacks, next week’s fixture is one of a series of exhibition games arranged in the build up to Euro 2016.

Under the headline, “England-France friendly to be called off,” The Times of London wrote, “The Football Association will speak with its French counterparts this morning before confirming that the match will not go ahead.”

China joins global condemnation of Paris attacks

President Xi Jinping of China joined the international condemnation of the attacks in a message to Francois Hollande, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Mr. Xi told Mr. Hollande: “This is a traumatic time for the French people, and on behalf of the Chinese government and people, and in my own personal capacity, I condemn this barbarous action in the strongest possible terms, express my profound grief for the victims, and offer my sincere condolences to the injured and to the bereaving families of victims.” Mr. Xi also said: “China has consistently opposed all forms of terrorism, and is willing to work with France and the international community to strengthen security cooperation and to fight terrorism together, safeguarding the lives of people of all countries.”

Presidential candidates respond on Twitter

Hillary Clinton, @HillaryClinton: The reports from Paris are harrowing. Praying for the city and the victims of the families. -H

 

Bernie Sanders, @Bernie Sanders: Horrified by the attacks in Paris tonight. My thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones.

 

Martin O’Malley, @MartinOMalley: Heartbreaking news from Paris. Praying for the country and its people. -O/M

 

Donald J. Trump, @realDonaldTrump: My prayers are with the victims and hostages in the horrible Paris attacks. May God be with you all.

 

Dr. Ben Carson, @RealBenCarson: My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris tonight.

 

Marco Rubio, @marcorubio: My prayers tonight are with the people of France as they come to terms with the terrible tragedy unfolding in Paris.

 

Ted Cruz, @tedcruz: Our deepest condolences go out to our French allies. I know the US stands by to offer any assistance necessary.

 

Jeb Bush, @JebBush: Praying for Paris tonight. America will stand by you against terror.

Paris attack kills more than 100, Police Say; Border controls tightened

The Paris area reeled Friday night from a shooting rampage, explosions and mass hostage-taking that President Francois Hollande an unprecedented terrorist attack on France. His government announced sharply increased border controls and heightened police powers as it mobilized the military in a national emergency.

French television and news services quoted the police as saying that around 100 people had been killed at a concert site where hostages had been held during a two-hour standoff with the police, and that perhaps dozens of others had been killed in apparently coordinated attacks outside the country’s main sports stadium and four other popular locations in the city. But estimates on the total number of dead varied.

Witnesses on French television said the scene at the concert hall, which can seat as many as 1,500 people, was a massacre, describing how gunmen with automatic weapons shot bursts of bullets into the crowd.

Ambulances were seen racing back and forth in the area into the early hours of Saturday, and hundreds of survivors were evacuated in police buses. French television said Paris hospitals were overwhelmed with wounded.

François Molins, the public prosecutor for Paris, told reporters that at least five attackers had been killed. News services quoted Michel Cadot, head of the Paris police, as saying early Saturday that all the assailants involved in shootings or bombings were believed to be dead.

But the total number involved in the attacks, including accomplices still at large, remained unclear. “We are going to try and determine what happened, determine what the profiles of these terrorists are, find out what their course of action was, find out if there are still accomplices or co-attackers,” Mr. Molins said. The casualties eclipsed by far the deaths and mayhem in Paris during the massacre at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and related assaults around the French capital by Islamic militant extremists less than a year ago.

Those attacks traumatized France and other countries in Europe, elevating fears of religious extremism and violent jihadists who have been radicalized by the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

An explosion near the sports stadium, the Stade de France, which French news services said was apparently a suicide bombing, occurred as the German and French national teams were playing a soccer match, forcing a hasty evacuation of Mr. Hollande. As the scope of the assaults quickly became clear, he convened an emergency cabinet meeting and announced that France was placing severe restrictions on its border crossings. “As I speak, terrorist attacks of an unprecedented scale are taking place in the Paris region,” he said in a nationally televised address. “There are several dozen dead, lots more wounded. It’s horrific.”

Mr. Hollande said that on his orders the government had “mobilized all the forces we can muster to neutralize the threats and secure all of the areas.”

President Obama came to the White House briefing room to express solidarity and offer aid and condolences. “Once again, we’ve seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians,” he said. “This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.” Other world leaders quickly condemned the assaults.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Twitter erupted with celebratory messages by members and sympathizers of the Islamic State, the extremist group based in Syria and Iraq that is under assault by major powers, including the United States, France and Russia.

The main shooting broke out at a popular music hall, the Bataclan, where the American band Eagles of Death Metal was among those playing. French news services said as many as 100 hostages may have been taken there, many of tAnother witness who escaped the concert hall told BFM: “When they started shooting we just saw flashes. People got down on the ground right away.”

The police ordered bystanders in that area of the city to get off the streets as officers mobilized. Government officials urged people elsewhere to stay indoors. Other French news media reported that Kalashnikov rifles had been involved in the shootings — a favored weapon of militants who have attacked targets in France — and that many rounds had been fired.hem apparently killed later. Some accounts said that grenades had been lobbed inside the music hall and that some of the assailants had detonated suicide vests.

A witness told BFM television that he heard rounds of automatic rifle fire and someone shouting “Allahu akbar!” at the Bataclan.

Police sirens sounded throughout central Paris on Friday night.

Despite the increased border security, air travel in and out of Paris appeared to be unaffected. Officials at Charles de Gaulle Airport confirmed that flights had not been suspended, although security had been heightened significantly. Both departing and arriving passengers and baggage were being screened thoroughly.

Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, said early Saturday that he had offered to send military assistance to France if requested. “I am in close contact with my French colleague and have offered assistance through German special forces,” he said in a statement. Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney general, also offered help. “We stand in solidarity with France, as it has stood with us so often in the past,” she said in a statement. “This is a devastating attack on our shared values, and we at the Department of Justice will do everything within our power to assist and work in partnership with our French law enforcement colleagues.”

While the police in major American cities, including New York and Washington, said they were following the events in France, there was no indication of possible attacks planned in the United States.

“We will not hesitate to adjust our security posture, as appropriate, to protect the American people,” the F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security said in a statement. American and European counterterrorism officials were reviewing wiretaps and other electronic surveillance records, but a senior American security official said there was no immediate indication that there had been suspicious chatter or other warning signs before the attack.

Unlike the attacks against Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in January, terrorism experts said, the attacks on the targets on Friday had no apparent rationale. Instead, assailants appeared to strike at random in hip neighborhoods on a Friday night when many people would be starting to enjoy the weekend.

“It’s a Friday night, and there’s a lot of people out, a lot of tourists out,” said a senior European counterterrorism official. “If you want maximum exposure, you do it like this, in the dark, when it’s scarier and more difficult for police to act.”

Anti-terrorism policies will need to be revisited after Paris attacks

Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officials were monitoring events in Paris after the co-ordinated attacks left scores of people across the city dead and injured.

While officially there was no intelligence indicating that the UK was at greater risk of attack, the scale and nature of the atrocities in the French capital are of a kind that British officials have long feared may happen in the UK.

As the severity of the situation became clear, the prime minister, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police and senior security officials at MI5 were being updated. Britain was already on a high state of terrorist alert, with counter-terrorism experts fearing the risk of an attack on the UK is severe.

Already this year, police in London have held an exercise to test how they would respond to marauding gun attacks in the centre of the capital. The last exercise followed the January attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices.

Proximity to France will lead UK officials to review border security. But the emerging detail points to the attacks being the nightmare of every western security official: determined, armed attackers, marauding through a city and shaking a major western country to its core.

Scotland Yard has created a special forces-style unit of armed officers to counter the threat of a terrorist gun attack in Britain. The 130 counter-terrorism specialist firearms officers who make up the elite unit have been equipped with new weapons and retrained in new tactics, such as fast-roping from helicopters and storming burning buildings to rescue hostages and shoot or arrest terrorist gun attackers.

They have been issued with SIG 516 weapons and trained to shoot to the head if necessary. Armed officers are traditionally trained to shoot towards the centre of the chest.

Any hopes that the dangers were merely theoretical or exaggerated were dashed by attacks in Sydney, New York city and Ottawa in late 2014 and then Paris in January 2015, which demonstrated terrorists had the ability and intention to strike the west on its home soil.

Those attacks ranged from an individual seemingly acting alone to a group coordinating their efforts and carrying out an attack involving a degree of sophistication.

The danger from so called leaderless jihad, where jihadi propaganda incites “lone wolves” was added to the threat from more directed and sophisticated plots. In the event of gun attacks in the UK, police would lead the response with the army in reserve.