France requests EU help in wake of Paris attacks

France has formally demanded European Union assistance after Islamic State’s bloody attacks on Paris, as 

French warplanes again bombed the extremist group’s positions in Syria overnight.        

The defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Brussels for a meeting with his EU counterparts, invoked for the first time the mutual assistance article in the EU’s Lisbon treaty, which obliges member states to offer “aid and assistance by all means in their power” in the event of an “armed aggression”. 

After French police launched more early-morning raids at 120 addresses around the country on Tuesday, meanwhile, Belgian media reported authorities were holding two possible accomplices in Friday’s deadly string of shootings and suicide bombings, which killed at least 129 people. 

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, in Paris for talks with President François Hollande, described the perpetrators of the carnage in the French capital as “psychopathic monsters”. 

Kerry said the two countries had agreed to exchange more information and he was “convinced that over the course of the next weeks, [Islamic State] will feel greater pressure”. The group was losing territory, he added. “They are feeling it today. They felt it yesterday … There is a clear strategy in place.” 

Four days after the shootings and suicide bombings in bars, restaurants, a concert hall and the national sports stadium, French authorities admitted they were still unclear as to the extent of the Brussels-based terror cell that carried out the attacks, the worst in France since the second world war. 

“We don’t know if there are accomplices in Belgium and in France … we still don’t know the number of people involved in the attacks,” the prime minister, Manuel Valls, told French radio. Iraqi intelligence officials have said their information suggests as many as 24 people were directly or indirectly involved.

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said police carried out 128 raids on Tuesday morning, but gave no further details. Raids on Monday led to 23 arrests and the seizure of weapons including a rocket launcher. Cazeneuve added that 115,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers had been mobilised.  

In a second series of airstrikes in 24 hours, 10 French warplanes launched from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan conducted bombings overnight on a command centre and recruitment centre for jihadis in Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa, the defence ministry said. 

Hollande on Monday called on the US and Russia to join a global coalition to “destroy” Islamic State following the attacks in Paris, telling MPs and senators France was “at war … against jihadist terrorism which is threatening the whole world”. 

Promising “no respite and no truce”, the president dispatched the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the eastern Mediterranean, tripling France’s capacity to carry out airstrikes in the region. In a tough clampdown at home, Hollande extended France’s state of emergency to three months, announced the recruitment of 8, counter terrorism. 

The attacks were “decided and planned in Syria, prepared and organised in Belgium, and perpetrated on our soil, with French complicity”, Hollande said. Seven attackers died, six after detonating suicide belts and a seventh from police gunfire.                         

French and Belgian police are still hunting Salah Abdeslam, 26, a French national living in Brussels. Abdeslam’s brother, Brahim, blew himself up in the Paris attacks. A third brother, Mohamed, was detained but later released without charge.                   

French intelligence officials have said they believe a Syria-based Belgian jihadi, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, was the architect of the attacks. Like the Abdeslam brothers, Abaaoud has lived in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, long associated with Islamic extremism. 

Officials cited Islamic State chatter that Abaaoud had advised foreign jihadis that a concert would be an ideal target for inflicting maximum casualties, as well as electronic communications between the suspected ringleader and Ibrahim Abdeslam. 

In Brussels, police have detained two suspects. La Libre newspaper said they also came from Molenbeek and had travelled back from Paris to Brussels with Abdeslam, although they said they had “no idea” what he had been doing in the French capital.

Ammonium nitrate and ammunition were found at their homes, the paper claimed, raising suspicions they could have been accomplices in the attacks, possibly preparing the explosives used in the attackers’ suicide belts

Prosecutors have identified five of the seven attackers who died in the assaults: four Frenchmen and a foreigner who was fingerprinted in Greece last month and later claimed asylum in Serbia. The man was carrying a Syrian passport bearing the name Ahmad al-Mohammad.

Although officials in Serbia, where authorities have arrested a man carrying a near-identical passport, have said both are probably fake, the possibility that one of the attackers may have entered Europe through Greece and followed the trail used by hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing the Middle East this summer has reignited a fierce EU row about border security and how to tackle the continuing influx. 

Three of the suicide bombers have been named as Omar Ismaïl Mostefai, 29, from Chartres, south-west of Paris, Samy Amimour, 28, a former bus driver from the Paris suburb of Drancy, and Bilal Hadfi, 20, a French national living in Belgium.  

All three are thought to have spent time in Syria in the past two years. About 520 French nationals are believed to be in Syria and Iraq, while 250 have returned home.

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