French police launch nationwide raids as planes bomb IS stronghold
Authorities step up hunt for possible accomplices to eight-man terror squad in Paris attacks that left 129 people dead on Friday
French police launched dozens of fresh raids across the country Tuesday as warplanes strafed the Syrian stronghold of Islamic State jihadists which France has vowed to destroy after their attack on Paris.
Authorities in France and Belgium stepped up the hunt for more gunmen and possible accomplices to the shootings and suicide bombings on bars, restaurants and a sports stadium that killed 129 mostly young people on Friday night.
US Secretary of State John Kerry described those behind the massacre as “psychopathic monsters.”
“This is not a clash of civilizations. These terrorists have declared war against all civilization,” said Kerry on Monday as he arrived in the scarred French capital to meet President Francois Hollande on Tuesday morning to pledge Washington’s solidarity with Paris.
Police are on the trail of 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, one of three brothers believed involved, and investigators believe Belgian jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is based in Syria, was the mastermind of the attacks.
“We don’t know if there are accomplices in Belgium and in France… we still don’t know the number of people involved in the attacks,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on France Inter radio.
French police carried out 128 raids targeting extremist networks across the country on Tuesday morning, a day after a similar sweep found “an arsenal of weapons” in the southeastern city of Lyon, according to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
He said more than 100 people had been placed under house arrest and 23 arrested.
Meanwhile French warplanes destroyed a command center and training center in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the stronghold of IS, in its second series of airstrikes in 24 hours, the defense ministry said.
Hollande has vowed to hit back at IS “without mercy” after the attacks which stunned the nation less than a year after a three-day attack which left 17 dead, including on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket.
Friday’s “acts of war… were decided and planned in Syria, prepared and organised in Belgium (and) perpetrated on our soil with French complicity,” Hollande told an extraordinary meeting of both houses of parliament in Versailles.
“The need to destroy Daesh (IS)… concerns the entire international community,” he told lawmakers, who burst into an emotional rendition of the Marseillaise national anthem after his speech.
“We are not committed to a war of civilizations, because these assassins don’t represent any civilization,” Hollande said. “We are in a war against terrorism, jihadism, which threatens the whole world.”
“Terrorism will not destroy France, because France will destroy it,” he declared.
Hollande said the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle would be deployed to the eastern Mediterranean to “triple our capacity to take action” against IS in Syria.
“We will continue the strikes in the weeks to come… There will be no respite and no truce,” he said.
The vessel, the flagship of the French navy, will take a few days to reach its destination, near Syria or Lebanon, whereas it was not due to reach the Gulf — its original destination — until next month.
On the domestic front, Hollande called for an extension of the state of emergency by three months and announced 8,500 new police and judicial jobs to help counter terrorism.
A government source told AFP that those returning from Syria could be placed under house arrest and said the presidency was considering amending the constitution to allow for tougher security measures.
Five of seven known attackers have been identified after the attacks.
Meanwhile, as soft rain fell on Paris, thousands of people continued to flock to pay their respects as shrines of candles and flowers at the attack sites.
Outside the Bataclan concert hall, many people had added photographs of the victims — strikingly, most appeared to be under 30.