French warplanes launch fresh strikes on IS stronghold in Syria



Less than a day after declaring France was “at war” with Islamic State, President Francois Hollande lived up to that pledge by ordering a second wave of airstrikes aimed at the terror organisation’s de facto capital in Syria, following the Paris attacks that left 129 people dead.

“For the second time in 24 hours the French military conducted an air raid against Daesh in Raqqa in Syria,” France’s defence ministry said in a statement on Tuesday evening (AEDT).

“Both targets were hit and destroyed simultaneously.

“Conducted in coordination with US forces, the raid was aimed at sites identified during reconnaissance missions previously carried out by France.”

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French police also staged a further 128 raids in the early hours of Tuesday (French time), interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said, as authorities stepped up their investigation into the attacks that left Europe in shock.

Mr Cazeneuve told French radio on Tuesday: “The majority of those who were involved in this attack were unknown to our services.”

They followed raids on Monday which resulted in 23 arrests and the seizure of 31 weapons, including a rocket launcher.

US Secretary of State John Kerry described those behind the massacre as “psychopathic monsters”.

The airstrikes come as part of Mr Hollande’s call for France to “intensify” efforts to combat IS, who he said must be fought “without mercy”.

Ten Rafale and Mirage 2000 fighters dropped 16 bombs in the second air attacks.

“We’re not engaged in a war of civilisations, because these assassins do not represent any. We are in a war against jihadist terrorism which is threatening the whole world,” Mr Hollande told a rare joint sitting of parliament.

Mr Hollande had earlier announced the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier would be deployed to the Middle East on Thursday, tripling France’s air strike capability.

On Monday, France conducted its first airstrikes against IS since the terrorism attack in Paris.

Ten French warplanes dropped 20 bombs on Raqqa, however France has carried out air raids against IS in Syria since September.

More than 300 people were injured and 129 were killed in the coordinated attacks in Paris on Friday night (French time).

On the domestic front, Mr Hollande called for an extension of the state of emergency by three months and announced 8500 new police and judicial jobs to help counter terrorism.

Hunting the organiser of the attack

While raids and arrests continue throughout France and Belgium – where some of the attackers are believed to have lived – the arrest authorities want most looms as the nabbing of the man behind the bloody attacks.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, “appears to be the brains behind several planned attacks in Europe”, a source close to the investigation has said.

It’s been reported he is thought to now be in Syria with IS.

He, and others in the cell that attacked Paris, grew up in an area of Brussels in Belgium, with a high population of Arabs.

abdelhamid abaaoud

Abaaoud, pictured here, might be in Syria.

Associated Press reports that Abaaoud attended one of Belgium’s top secondary schools – Saint-Pierre d’Uccle.

More terrorists have gone to fight with IS in Iraq and Syria from Belgium than any other EU country, per head of population.

A Spain versus Belgium soccer match planned for Tuesday was cancelled due to security fears.

Another man linked to the attack – reportedly one of the shooters – is still on the run.

It was thought 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam was in the town of Strasbourg but this was proven to be incorrect on Tuesday.

One of his brothers died in the Paris assault, while a third brother was arrested at the weekend but later released.

A lady who rented a house to one of the attackers, Salah’s brother Brahim Abdeslam, described him as “nice” and “well dressed”.

“They were very kind. There was nothing noticeable about them. They were nice, proper, well dressed,” she told Europe 1.

“They didn’t have beards and were wearing normal clothes.”

paris attacks, francois hollande

President Hollande addressees a special joint parliament session. Photo: AAP

They reportedly told her they worked for a Belgian company and had travelled to Paris for business.

Two of the French attackers were named as Ismael Omar Mostefai, 29, from Chartres, south-west of Paris, and Samy Amimour, from the Paris suburb of Drancy.

Prosecutors said 28-year-old Amimour was one of the gunmen who massacred 89 people in the Bataclan concert hall – the scene of the most bloodshed.

He was known to anti-terror investigators after being charged on October 19, 2012 with “conspiracy to commit terrorism” over an attempt to travel to Yemen, but was released on bail.

France believes Mostefai, a petty criminal who never served time in jail, visited Syria in 2013-2014.

His radicalisation underlined the trouble police face trying to capture an elusive enemy raised in its own cities.

– with Brandon Cohen and ABC


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