France and Russia staged air strikes on Islamic State targets in northern Syria on Tuesday, punishing the group for attacks in Paris and against a Russian airliner that together killed 353 people, Reuters reports. 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, most of them young people, France formally requested European Union assistance in its fight against the militants 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 safe houses in Paris where they believe the militants launched their assault. Underlining the widening scope of the probe, police in Germany said they arrested five 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.”
Western officials said Russia launched a “significant number” of strikes in Syria on Tuesday hitting the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa. In a separate action, apparently not coordinated, French warplanes targeted Raqqa for a second day.
French President Francois Hollande has said he will see Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama in the coming days to try to convince them to join a grand coalition against Islamic State which controls swathes of Syria and Iraq.
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.
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. Police found a third Belgian-licensed car believed to have been used by the attackers and sealed off the area around it in Paris’ 18th district.
Cazeneuve told France Info radio police were making rapid progress in their investigation but declined to give details. 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. Hollande, who has declared a state of emergency, met visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday to press his call for the U.S.-led and Russian-led coalitions to join forces.