France bombs Islamic State HQ, 2 more attackers identified

France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls said there have been 150 police raids overnight in the country.

Updated - November 17, 2021 03:08 am IST

Published - November 16, 2015 02:52 am IST - PARIS

A file photo  of France's flagship Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, with resupply ship La Meuse, in the Golf of Sirte, off the Libyan coast.

A file photo of France's flagship Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, with resupply ship La Meuse, in the Golf of Sirte, off the Libyan coast.

France launched “massive” air strikes on the Islamic State group’s de-facto capital in Syria on Sunday night, destroying a jihadi training camp and a munitions dump in Raqqa city, where Iraqi intelligence officials say the attacks on Paris were planned.

Twelve aircraft including 10 fighter jets dropped 20 bombs in the biggest air strikes since France extended its campaign against the extremist group to Syria in September, a Defense Ministry statement said. The jets took off from sites in Jordan and the Persian Gulf, in coordination with U.S. forces.

On the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Turkey on Sunday, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his country was justified in taking action in Syria.

Two more suicide bombers identified

The Paris prosecutor’s office says two more suicide bombers involved in deadly attacks in the French capital have been identified. French official says suspected attacks mastermind linked to thwarted train and church attacks.

Prosecutors said Monday that one suicide bomber who blew himself up in the Bataclan music hall Friday night was Samy Amimour, a 28-year-old Frenchman charged in a terrorism investigation in 2012. He had been placed under judicial supervision but dropped off the radar and was the subject of an international arrest warrant.

Prosecutors say three people in Amimour’s family entourage have been in custody since early Monday.

A suicide bomber who blew himself up outside the national soccer stadium was found with a Syrian passport with the name Ahmad Al Mohammad, a 25-year-old born in Idlib. The prosecutor’s office says fingerprints from the attacker match those of someone who passed through Greece in October.

Action in Syria

“It was normal to take the initiative and action and France had the legitimacy to do so. We did it already in the past, we have conducted new airstrikes in Raqqa on Sunday, Mr.Fabius said. “One cannot be attacked harshly and you know the drama that is happening in Paris, without being present and active.”

Meanwhile, as police announced seven arrests and hunted for more members of the sleeper cell that carried out the Paris attacks that killed 129 people, French officials revealed. Several key suspects had been stopped and released by the police after the attack.

The arrest warrant for Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old born in Brussels, calls him very dangerous and warns people not to intervene if they see him.

Yet police already had him in their grasp on Saturday, when they stopped a car carrying three men near the Belgian border. By then, hours had passed since authorities identified Abdeslam as the renter of a Volkswagen Polo that carried hostage takers to the Paris theater.

Three French police officials and a top French security official confirmed that officers let Abdeslam go after checking his ID. They spoke on condition of anonymity, lacking authorization to publicly disclose such details.

Warned on Thursday

Tantalizing clues about the extent of the plot have emerged from Baghdad, where senior Iraqi officials said that France and other countries had been warned on Thursday of an imminent attack.

An Iraqi intelligence dispatch warned that Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered his followers to immediately launch gun and bomb attacks and take hostages inside the countries of the coalition fighting them in Iraq and Syria.

The Iraqi dispatch provided no details on when or where the attack would take place and a senior French security official said that French intelligence gets these kinds of warnings “all the time” and “every day.”

The officials also said that a sleeper cell in France then met with the attackers after their training and helped them execute the plan. There were 24 people involved in the operation, they said - 19 attackers and five others in charge of logistics and planning.

None of these details have been corroborated by officials of France or other intelligence agencies.

Abdeslam is one of three brothers believed to be involved; One who crossed with him into Belgium was later arrested, and another blew himself up inside the Bataclan theater after taking the audience hostage and firing on them repeatedly. It was the worst of Friday’s synchronized attacks, leaving 89 fatalities and hundreds of people wounded inside.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility. Its statement mocked France’s air attacks on suspected IS targets in Syria and Iraq, and called Paris “the capital of prostitution and obscenity.”

In all, three teams of attackers including seven suicide bombers attacked the national stadium, the concert hall and nearby nightspots. The attacks wounded 350 people, 99 of them seriously.

Black Volkswagen Polo

Abdeslam rented the black Volkswagen Polo used by the hostage-takers, another French security official said. A Brussels parking ticket found inside led police to at least one of the arrests in Belgium, a French police official said.

Three Kalashnikovs were found inside another car known to have been used in the attacks that was found in Montreuil, an eastern Parisian suburb, another a French police official said.

As many as three of the seven suicide bombers were French citizens, as was at least one of the men arrested in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussells, which authorities consider to be a focal point for extremists and fighters going to Syria from Belgium.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon said suspects arrested in Molenbeek had been stopped previously in Cambrai, France, “in a regular roadside check” but that police had no suspicion about them at the time and they were let go quickly.

One, identified by the print on a recovered finger, was 29-year-old Frenchman Ismael Mostefai, who had a record of petty crime and had been flagged in 2010 for ties to Islamic radicalism, the Paris prosecutor said. A judicial official and lawmaker Jean-Pierre Gorges confirmed his identity. A judicial official said that police had also identified two others of the suicide bombers, both French nationals who had been living in Belgium - 20-year-old Bilal Hadfi, who detonated himself outside the Stade de France; and 31-year-old Brahim Abdeslam, the brother of fugitive Salah Abdeslam, who blew himself up on the Boulevard Voltaire.

Police detained Mostefai’s father, a brother and other relatives on Saturday and questioning continued on Sunday, the judicial official said.

Homegrown terrorism

These details stoked fears of homegrown terrorism in France, which has exported more jihadis than any other in Europe and seen many return from the fight. All three gunmen in the January attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a Kosher supermarket in Paris were French.

The attackers inside the Bataclan seemed quite young, according to one survivor, Julien Pearce, a journalist at Europe 1 radio who escaped by crawling onto the stage, and then coming out from an exit door when the shooters paused to reload. Before making his final dash, he got a good look at one of the assailants, he said.

“He seemed very young. That’s what struck me, his childish face, very determined, cold, calm, frightening,” Mr.Pearce said.

Struggling to keep his country calm and united after an exceptionally violent year, President Francois Hollande on Sunday met opposition leaders conservative rival and former president Nicolas Sarkozy as well as increasingly popular far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has used the attacks on Paris to advance her anti-immigrant agenda.

Refugees fleeing war by the tens of thousands fear the Paris attacks could prompt Europe to close its doors, especially after police said a Syrian passport found next to one attacker’s body suggested its owner passed through Greece into the European Union and on through Macedonia and Serbia last month.

False alarm

Paris remains on edge amid three days of official mourning. French troops have deployed by the thousands and tourist sites remain shuttered in one of the most visited cities on Earth. Panic ensued Sunday night as police abruptly cleared hundreds of mourners from the famed Place de la Republique square, where police said firecrackers sparked a false alarm.

“Whoever starts running starts everyone else running,” said Alice Carton, city council member who was at the square. “It’s a very weird atmosphere. The sirens and screaming are a source of fear.”

Officers also moved in, guns drawn, after mourners panicked near the Carillon bar, where crowds laid flowers and lit candles in memory of the 15 people killed there.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.