Belgium police arrested three suspects with ties to the coordinated acts of terror that shook Paris late Friday. Belgium Justice Minister Koen Geens told the VRT network that the arrests came after a car with Belgian license plates was seen Friday night close to the Bataclan concert hall, scene of the deadliest assault where at least 89 people were massacred by attackers armed with AK-47s and explosives. French media reported that a suspicious black car with Belgian places was seen near the Bataclan, Sky News reported. The area around the Eiffel Tower was evacuated, the Champ de Marspark underground station was closed and there was heavy police activity for a time around the Pullman Hotel, as French authorities continued to hunt the Islamic militants responsible for Friday’s deadly attacks. The scenes were eventually cleared.
According to Belgian media reports, parking tickets from Molenbeek were found inside the suspect grey Polo car which had Belgian number plates. RTBF earlier reported up to three separate police raids in connection with the Paris attacks, as its website ran a photograph of the police escorting a handcuffed man wearing what appeared to be a black blindfold. French President François Hollande called the attacks an “act of war” by Islamic State, which issued an extraordinarily detailed claim of responsibility almost immediately after his address to the nation. Left behind after the attacks were the latest scars, Pope Francis said Saturday, from the “piecemeal Third World War.” One survivor described gunmen coldly picking off hostages in a packed concert hall as if “we were birds.”
The attacks — far more sophisticated and more deadly in magnitude than a siege here in January carried out by three Islamist militants — robbed France’s showcase city of its rhythm of life and put Europe on alert to a new level of terrorism. In the aftermath of the most deadly assault on French soil since the Second World War, the Eiffel Tower was shut down “indefinitely.” The Louvre closed its doors. And the country, which cherishes secular freedoms, outlawed public gatherings until at least Thursday.
France declared a state of emergency, granting police broader powers, for the first time since 2005 riots on the outskirts of Paris. Paris landmarks became ghost towns. The government deployed 1,500 troops to safeguard key buildings. Schools, libraries, food markets, swimming pools and gymnasiums were closed. The extent of the violence signalled that Islamic State is extending its reach far beyond the battlefields of the Middle East, prompting much of the rest of Europe to bolster security on Saturday, ramping up border checks and patrols at key buildings and transit points. But intelligence officials in Germany and Spain said they were focusing mainly on improving security at French schools and embassies, suggesting how France — a nation more involved in fighting Islamic extremism abroad than any of its neighbours — has emerged as the epicentre of the region’s terrorism threat.
We are facing an act of war organized by an army of terrorist jihadists that had already organized and planned attacks in the past,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Saturday evening. “Five attacks have been thwarted since this summer. But we have always said that there is no such thing as zero risk. We have always said that France could face new terrorist attacks.”
The victims at six attack sites — the Bataclan concert venue, a soccer stadium, and bawdy bars and restaurants in east Paris — included Nohemi Gonzalez, 23, a California State University design student spending her junior year abroad. And Bertrand Navarret, 37, a heavy-metal fan from southern France who was among the first to die as the gunmen fired into the crowd at the concert. And two Tunisian sisters celebrating a friend’s birthday on a night out.
As of late Saturday, at least 10 suspects were arrested in Belgium. During the attacks Friday, six suspects blew themselves up and a seventh was killed by police. Islamic State, however, claimed that eight men were directly involved in the attacks. The siege began at 9:20 p.m. local time Friday, and lasted until police stormed the concert hall at 12:20 a.m. The three teams of suicide bombers had spread out across Paris, with two of the groups racing through the city’s streets in a black SEAT León and a black Volkswagen Polo. They deployed “war-type weapons:” Kalashnikov rifles and explosive belts with identical triggers, said François Molins, a prosecutor in Paris.
French officials recovered fingerprints from at least four of the men, with French, German and other European law enforcement agencies seeking possible matches. As if in response to the tough declarations from Hollande on Saturday, Islamic State moments later asserted responsibility for the attacks.