France launches new airstrikes on Syria and anti-terrorism raids at home – Washington Post

France launched new airstrikes on the Islamic State’s main stronghold in Syria on Tuesday and police carried out more than 120 anti-terrorism raids throughout France as the country’s dual strategies took shape in the wake of the Paris attacks.

At home, France is moving aggressively to lead probes into Friday’s massacres and seeks to undercut other potential militants with police sweeps and tougher security measures. In Syria, meanwhile, France has unleashed warplanes and has urged for a “grand coalition” possibly uniting U.S.-led forces and Russia to confront the militant group.

French military spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron said the latest wave of airstrikes on Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa, destroyed a command post and training camp, news agencies reported.

Meanwhile, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said authorities carried out 128 anti-terrorism police sweeps overnight as part of the widening crackdowns after the attacks that killed at least 129 people and wounded more than 350.

That brings the total to nearly 300 raids since Monday across France and neighboring Belgium, which has emerged as a possible hub for some of the Paris plotters.

Cazeneuve said that “the majority of those who were involved in this attack were unknown to our services,” news agencies reported.

He said 115,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers have been mobilized to protect French citizens. He pledged to boost funding for police equipment — which he said that dropped by 17 percent from 2007 to 2012, they reported.

France’s moves come one day after French leaders vowed to hunt down Islamic State militants behind last Friday’s attacks as European authorities intensified efforts to untangle a plot they believe leads all the way back to Syria.

In a speech to French lawmakers on Monday, President François Hollande promised an unforgiving campaign against the Islamic State and proposed changes to France’s constitution to help authorities beat back militant threats.

“It is not about containing but about destroying that organization,” Hollande said before the members of Parliament stood to sing the national anthem. “They are not out of our reach.”

“Friday’s acts of war were decided and planned in Syria,” he told parliament. “They were organized in Belgium and perpetrated on our soil with French complicity with one specific goal: to sow fear and to divide us.”

The French president said Syria had become “the biggest factory of terrorism the world has ever known and the international community is still too divided and too incoherent.”

Hollande is expected to put forward a bill this week to extend a state of emergency for three months, enhancing police power to restrict freedom of movement and gatherings at public places.

At Versailles, he also proposed constitutional changes that would allow authorities to withdraw French citizenship from people with dual nationality, even if they were born in France, and to prevent French terrorism suspects from returning to France.

Hollande said he would meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Obama in coming days seeking what he called a “grand coalition” against the Islamic State.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry, on an unscheduled stop in Paris, said Tuesday that Islamic State was losing territory in the Middle East and that the Western-backed coalition is making inroads against the group.

“The level of cooperation could not be higher,” he said. “We agreed to exchange more information and I’m convinced that over the course of the next weeks, Daesch will feel greater pressure. They are feeling it today. They felt it yesterday. They felt it in the past weeks. We gained more territory. Daesch has less territory,” Kerry said, referring to the Arabic name for Islamic State.

As the investigations expanded, authorities were zeroing in on the role of a man they believe is a key figure in the Islamic State’s operations in Europe and possibly played a coordinating role in the Paris plot from Syria.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 28-year-old Belgian national of Moroccan descent, has already been linked to a number of terrorist attempts in Europe this year, including a foiled assault aboard a high-speed Paris-bound train in August.

A French official familiar with the case described Abaaoud as the “guru” of several assailants, including Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old believed to have taken part in Friday’s bloodshed who is now the subject of an international dragnet.

While the expanding investigation produced tantalizing clues about possible plotters, it also underscored the limitations of Western security agencies as they face homegrown terrorism plots.

New information about the attackers showed that at least some were known to French and Belgian security officials. Turkish and Iraqi officials also reported having warned Western officials about potential threats ahead of Friday’s attacks.

Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, said the attack was “organized, conceived and planned” from Syria. Waves of migrants fleeing the civil war there have traveled to Europe, raising worries that militants could also have used the exodus as way into the continent.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also said emerging intelligence about the plot suggests that it originated in Syria. “It certainly looks as if the general plotting originated in Syria,” Schiff said in Washington, adding that it remains unclear “to what degree operatives in Europe may have been exercising their own discretion in choice of timing and targets.”

Schiff spoke after he and other lawmakers received a briefing Monday. He declined to elaborate, but said the Islamic State “has been trying to plant operatives in Europe for some time, building up their external operations, and France has been a primary target.”

In Brussels on Monday, dozens of Belgian police officers sealed off a street in the largely Muslim Molenbeek district and conducted a raid there, but they failed to catch the fugitive they were seeking.

Magnus Ranstorp, research director at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish Defense University, said the free flow of people through the European Union has made it difficult for underfunded intelligence agencies in France and Belgium, which has emerged as a nexus for Islamic State supporters, to track potential threats.

In Washington, CIA Director John Brennan rejected the idea that the attacks reflected an intelligence failure. He blamed leaks about surveillance capabilities for undermining the ability of spy agencies to protect people. “Clearly there was an effort that was underway for quite some time,” Brennan said of the Paris plot. He said European security services’ “ability to monitor and surveil these individuals is under strain.”

The United States and its allies knew the Islamic State was planning and threatening attacks in Europe, he said, but “there has been a significant increase in the operational security of these operatives and terrorist networks as they have gone to school” on disclosures of U.S. and allied capabilities. He did not name Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor who leaked details about U.S. eavesdropping programs, but lashed out at “unauthorized disclosures and a lot of hand-wringing over the government’s role.”

Daniela Deane reported from London, Murphy from Washington. Steven Mufson reported from Brussels. Karen DeYoung, Souad Mekhennet, Cléophée Demoustier, Virgile Demoustier, Karla Adam and Monique El-Faizy in Paris, Liz Sly in Baghdad, Hugh Naylor in Beirut, Brian Murphy, Greg Miller and William Branigin in Washington and Elinda Labropoulou in Athens contributed to this report.

Read more:

French President Hollande’s remarks after Paris attacks

Tracing one Belgian neighborhood’s ties to jihad

20 bombs dropped in retaliatory strikes on militants’ stronghold in Syria

‘We are everything they hate’: Community near attack sites known for tolerance


Write a Reply or Comment:

Your email address will not be published.*