PARIS – Military alliance?
France and Russia strike Islamic state
PARIS – France and Russia bombed Islamic State targets in Syria yesterday, punishing the group for attacks in Paris and against a Russian airliner that together killed 353 people, and made the first tentative steps toward a possible military alliance.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a coordinated onslaught in Paris on Friday and the downing of a Russian charter jet over Sinai on Oct. 31, saying they were in retaliation for French and Russian air raids in Iraq and Syria.
Still reeling from the Paris carnage that killed 129 people, France formally requested European Union assistance in its battle and British Prime Minister David Cameron edged closer to extending military action against Islamic State in Syria.
Police investigating the worst atrocity in France since World War Two discovered two locations in Paris where they believe the militants launched their assault. Underlining the widening scope of the probe, police in Germany said they had arrested seven suspects, including two women.
In Moscow, the Kremlin acknowledged that a bomb had destroyed a Russian airliner last month, killing 224 people. President Vladimir Putin vowed to hunt down those responsible and intensify air strikes against Islamists in Syria.
“Our air force’s military work in Syria must not simply be continued,” he said. “It must be intensified in such a way that the criminals understand that retribution is inevitable.”
Syrian targets hit by Russian long-range bombers and cruise missiles on Tuesday included the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa. In a separate action, French warplanes targeted Raqqa for a second day running.
Paris and Moscow are not coordinating their operations, but French President Francois Hollande has called for a global campaign against the radicals in the wake of the Paris attacks.
The Kremlin said Putin spoke to Hollande by telephone and had ordered the Russian navy to establish contact with a French naval force heading to the eastern Mediterranean, led by an aircraft carrier, and to treat them as allies.
“We need to work out a plan with them of joint sea and air actions,” Putin told military chiefs.
Russia began air strikes in Syria at the end of September. It has always said its main target is Islamic State, but most of its bombs in the past have hit territory held by other groups opposed to its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Hollande will visit Putin in Moscow on Nov. 26, two days after the French leader is due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington to push for a concerted drive against Islamic State, which controls swathes of Syria and Iraq.
A French presidential source said Hollande also spoke by phone to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who backed calls for a united front against the militants. Iran is Assad’s closest ally.
In Brussels, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian invoked the EU’s mutual assistance clause for the first time since the 2009 Lisbon Treaty introduced the possibility, saying he expected help with French operations in Syria, Iraq and Africa.
“This is firstly a political act,” Le Drian told a news conference after a meeting of EU defense chiefs.
The 28 EU member states accepted the French request but it was not immediately clear what assistance would be forthcoming.
A manhunt was continuing in France and Belgium on Tuesday for one of the eight attackers in the Paris assault.
French police staged 128 raids overnight in the hunt for accomplices and Islamist militant networks, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said, adding that the investigation was making fast progress.
One top suspect, Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, 26, remains at large after escaping back to Belgium early on Saturday and eluding a police dragnet in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek, where he lived with his two brothers.
One of the brothers blew himself up outside a Paris cafe on Friday, seriously injuring many bystanders.