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Severed finger leads to attacker’s identity

12:43 AM November 16, 2015
France Paris Shooting

Investigating police officers work outside the Stade de France stadium after an international friendly soccer match France against Germany, in Saint Denis, outside Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. Several dozen people were killed in attacks around Paris on Friday, French President Francois Hollande said, announcing that he was closing the country’s borders and declaring a state of emergency. AP

PARIS—French police have identified the first of seven gunmen who killed at least 129 people in a wave of carnage claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, as international investigators stepped up their probes into Paris’ worst ever attacks.

French authorities Saturday named the first attacker as 29-year-old Omar Ismail Mostefai, who was identified from a severed finger found at Bataclan concert hall, scene of the worst of the bloodshed.

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IS jihadists said they were behind the gun and suicide attacks that left a trail of destruction at a sold-out concert hall, at restaurants and bars, and outside France’s Stade de France national stadium.

President Francois Hollande called the coordinated assault on Friday night an “act of war” as the capital’s normally bustling streets fell eerily quiet, 10 months after attacks on magazine Charlie Hebdo shocked the nation.

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The investigation widened across Europe, with Belgian police arresting several suspects and German authorities probing a possible link to a man recently found with a car of explosives.

The discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one attacker has raised suspicions some of the assailants might have entered Europe as part of an influx of people fleeing Syria’s civil war.

“We confirm that the (Syrian) passport holder came through the Greek island of Leros on Oct. 3, where he was registered under EU rules,” said the Greek minister for citizen protection, Nikos Toskas.

Global shock waves

The attacks sent shock waves around the world, with London’s Tower Bridge, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and the World Trade Center in New York among the many landmarks lit up in the red, white and blue of the French national flag in a show of solidarity.

US President Barack Obama described the onslaught as “an attack on all of humanity” and an emotional Pope Francis said he was “shaken” by the “inhuman” attacks.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the attacks “suggest a new degree of planning and coordination and a greater ambition for mass casualty attacks.”

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The attacks, which killed 129 people and wounded 352, including 99 critically, were the first ever suicide bombings on French soil. Unlike those in January, none of the assailants had ever been jailed for terror offences.

Mostefai, born on Nov. 21, 1985, in the poor Paris suburb of Courcouronnes as one of four brothers and two sisters, had eight convictions for petty crimes but had never been imprisoned. Prints found on a finger in the Bataclan matched those of Mostefai’s in police files.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Mostefai had come to the authorities’ attention in 2010 as having been radicalized but had “never been implicated in a terrorist network or plot.”

Investigators were probing whether Mostefai took a trip to Syria last year, according to police sources.

“It’s a crazy thing, it’s madness,” Mostefai’s brother told Agence France-Presse, his voice trembling, before he was taken into custody along with his father on Saturday night. “Yesterday I was in Paris and I saw what a mess this was.”

The brother turned himself in to police after learning Mostefai was involved in the attacks.

Radicalized

While he had cut ties with Mostefai several years ago, and knew he had been involved in petty crimes, his brother said he had never imagined Mostefai could be radicalized.

The last thing he knew, Mostefai had gone to Algeria with his family and his “little girl,” he said, adding: “It’s been a time since I have had any news.”

“I called my mother, she didn’t seem to know anything,” he said.

A source close to the inquiry said Mostefai regularly attended a mosque in Luce, close to Chartres, to the southwest of Paris.

In a statement posted online Saturday, IS claimed responsibility for the attacks and referred to French air strikes on IS in Syria.

The group, which has sown mayhem in swaths of Syria and Iraq, threatened further attacks in France “as long as it continues its crusader campaign.”

The attacks

Eighty-nine people were killed at the Bataclan by the armed men who burst in shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) before gunning down concertgoers and

executing hostages.

The jihadists were heard raging at Hollande and his decision in September to join US-led air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria.

As police stormed the venue, two of the gunmen blew themselves up, while the third was shot by police.

Three suicide bombers also detonated their explosives outside the Stade de France where France was playing Germany in a football friendly attended by Hollande, who was evacuated.

Several restaurants were targeted, including a popular Cambodian eatery in the trendy Canal St. Martin area, where at least 12 people died. Another 19 people were killed at a busy restaurant on nearby Rue de Charonne.

The seventh attacker blew himself up on a bustling avenue near the concert hall, injuring one other person.

European investigation    

Analysts at Eurasia Group said the attacks “confirm a structural shift in the modus operandi of the Islamic State, and represent a prelude to additional attacks in the West.”

The investigation into the attacks spread beyond France on Saturday as Belgian police arrested several suspects in Brussels, including one who was in Paris at the time of the carnage.

The arrests—local media said three people were detained—were in connection with a vehicle found near the Bataclan concert hall.

In Germany, the authorities said they were looking into a possible link between the attacks and the arrest in Bavaria last week of a man with a car-load of weapons and explosives.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said at least one of those held from the inner Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek was believed to have spent the previous evening in Paris, where two cars registered in Belgium were impounded close to scenes of some of the violence, including the Bataclan concert hall.

“Police operations will go on,” Michel told RTL television as local media reported continued security activity overnight in Molenbeek, west of the city center, which is home to many Muslims, notably families originally from Morocco and Turkey.

The Paris attacks were “prepared, organized and planned overseas, with help from inside [France],” Hollande said.

Syrian connection

In Greece—the main entry point into Europe for hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing conflict and misery—police were investigating a possible Syrian connection to the Paris attacks, though they did not rule out that the Syrian passport may have changed hands before the assault.

Within conflict-torn Syria, residents and activists from some of the areas worst affected by more than four years of bombings and war, joined the global outcry over the carnage in Paris.

“We extend our hands to all the people that love peace and freedom, most of all the French people,” residents of the besieged town of Douma near Damascus wrote in an open letter. Reports from the wires

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