France seeks global coalition against Islamic State, launches new strikes
Girl lays candle to commemorate victims of attacks in Paris in front of the French embassy in Warsaw, Poland - REUTERS
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PARIS: France’s President Francois Hollande called on the United States and Russia on Monday to join a global coalition to destroy Islamic State following the attacks in Paris, and hours later French fighter jets launched fresh strikes on targets in Syria.

“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-terrorism 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, sombre chamber.

A spokesman for France’s military command told Reuters early on Tuesday that 10 French warplanes, launched from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, had conducted air strikes overnight targeting a command center and a recruitment center for jihadists in the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa.

Parliamentarians had given Hollande a standing ovation before spontaneously singing the “Marseillaise” national anthem in a show of political unity after 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 France would intensify the assaults on Islamic State, 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.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Paris to pay respects to those killed in the attacks, said: “Tonight we are all Parisians,” and pledged the United States would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with France. He is due to meet Hollande on Tuesday morning.

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 and office workers stood at their desks.

ISLAMIC STATE THREATS

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.

The Belgian soccer federation said in a statement late on Monday it was calling off an international friendly due to be played against Spain in Brussels on Tuesday for security reasons.

A statement on the Belgian interior ministry’s website said it had recommended the cancellation of the match after raising its security threat alert to level three, meaning “serious”.

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.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told RTL Radio: “We know that more attacks are being prepared, not just against France but also against other European countries.” He added: “We are going to live with this terrorist threat for a long time.”

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