PARIS – Let’s join forces
France seeks global coalition against Is
French President Francois Hollande called on the United States and Russia to join a global coalition to destroy Islamic State in the wake of the attacks across Paris, and announced a wave of measures to combat terror in France.
“France is at war,” Hollande told a joint session of parliament at the Palace of Versailles, promising to increase funds for national security and strengthen anti-terror laws in response to the suicide bombings and shootings that killed 129.
“We’re not engaged in a war of civilizations, because these assassins do not represent any. We are in a war against jihadist terrorism which is threatening the whole world,” he told a packed, somber chamber.
Parliamentarians gave Hollande a standing ovation before spontaneously singing the “Marseillaise” national anthem in a show of political unity following the worst atrocity France has seen since World War Two.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Friday’s coordinated attacks, saying they were in retaliation for France’s involvement in U.S.-backed air strikes in Iraq and Syria.
Hollande pledged that French fighter jets would intensify their assaults and said he would meet U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming days to urge them to pool their resources.
“We must combine our forces to achieve a result that is already too late in coming,” the president said.
The U.S.-led coalition has been bombing Islamic State for more than a year. Russia joined the conflict in September, but Western officials say it has mainly hit foreign-backed fighters battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, not Islamic State.
Speaking in Turkey at the same time as Hollande, Obama called Friday’s attacks a “terrible and sickening setback”, but maintained that the U.S.-led coalition was making progress.
“Even as we grieve with our French friends … we can’t lose sight that there has been progress,” Obama said at a Group of 20 summit, ruling out sending in ground troops.
Much of France came to a standstill at midday for a minute’s silence to remember the dead, many of whom were young people killed as they enjoyed a night out. Metro trains stopped, pedestrians paused on pavements and office workers stood at their desks.
But in a sign of life slowly returning to normal, schools and museums re-opened after a 48-hour shutdown, as did the Eiffel Tower, which lit up the night sky in the red, white and blue colors of the French flag following two days of darkness.
Investigators have identified a Belgian national living in Syria as the possible mastermind behind the attacks, which targeted bars, restaurants, a concert hall and soccer stadium.
“Friday’s act of war was decided upon and planned in Syria, prepared and organized in Belgium and carried out on our territory with the complicity of French citizens,” said Hollande.
Prosecutors have identified five of the seven dead assailants – four Frenchmen and a foreigner fingerprinted in Greece last month. His role in the carnage has fueled speculation that Islamic State took advantage of a recent wave of refugees fleeing Syria to slip militants into Europe.
Police believe one attacker is on the run, and suspect at least four people helped organize the mayhem.
“We know that more attacks are being prepared, not just against France but also against other European countries,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told RTL Radio. “We are going to live with this terrorist threat for a long time.”
Islamic State warned in a video on Monday that any country hitting it would suffer the same fate as Paris, promising specifically to target Washington.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters police had arrested nearly two dozen people and seized arms, including a rocket launcher and automatic weapons, in 168 raids overnight.
“Let this be clear to everyone, this is just the beginning, these actions are going to continue,” he said.
Hollande said he would create 5,000 jobs in the security forces, boost prison service staff by 2,500 and avoid cuts to defense spending before 2019. He acknowledged this would break EU budget rules, but said national security was more important.
He also said he would ask parliament to extend for three months a state of emergency he declared on Friday, which gives security forces sweeping powers to search and detain suspects.