France, Russia bombard IS as attacks forge unlikely alliance

17th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

France and Russia agreed Tuesday to coordinate their military and security services in an unusual alliance against Islamic State jihadists in Syria after devastating attacks on Paris and the bombing of a Russian plane.

As French and Belgian investigators continued the manhunt for an eighth suspect involved in Friday's deadly assault, the war machines went into action, with both countries bombarding the IS stronghold of Raqa.

Paris and Moscow have vowed merciless retaliation for the attacks on the French capital and a Russian airliner that collectively killed more than 350 people and have galvanised international resolve to destroy the jihadists and end the nearly five-year Syrian war.

"It's necessary to establish direct contact with the French and work with them as allies," said Russian President Vladimir Putin as France prepared to send an aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean, where the Russian navy is deployed.

French President Francois Hollande will meet Putin in Moscow on November 26, two days after seeing US President Barack Obama in Washington.

In grieving France, police racked up arrests and seized weapons as they scoured the country for clues after a wave of coordinated attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers on Friday night that left 129 dead and shook the country to its core.

Only 117 of the victims have been identified and 221 people are still in hospital.

In a sign of the nervousness around Europe, a football match between Germany and the Netherlands was cancelled because of "security reasons" and fans evacuated from the stadium in Hanover, police said.

However a match between France and England was to go ahead in the presence of Prince William, at London's Wembley Stadium where fans were to join together in singing the French national anthem 'La Marseillaise'.

The attacks targeted France's national stadium, a rock concert, bars and restaurants, with the France squad particularly touched when a cousin of midfielder Lassana Diarra was named among the victims at the Bataclan concert hall where 89 were massacred.

- A satirical tribute -

Paris is palpably more shaken than after the January attacks which killed 17 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly and a Jewish supermarket.

The magazine itself unveiled its tribute cover for the attacks showing a dancing reveller, bottle and glass in hand, with champagne pouring out of holes in his body.

"They have weapons," the caption reads, adding: "Screw them, we have champagne."

In the southern city of Toulouse, itself targeted in a 2012 attack by a jihadist gunman, about 10,000 people gathered in a candlelit vigil Tuesday.

French investigators have identified five of seven attackers who were killed or blew themselves up in the Paris attacks, and have launched a manhunt for an eighth man, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, whose brother was one of the suicide bombers.

A bus driver and a bar owner were among the jihadists, most of whom were French and Belgian nationals, while one of them had a passport apparently issued in Syria.

Investigators believe Belgian jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is based in Syria and knew Salah Abdeslam, may have masterminded the attacks.

Police raids turned up a second car rented in Belgium by Abdeslam, saying his credit card was used to rent two hotel rooms in a suburb outside Paris on the eve of the attack. Another room was rented by his brother in the Parisian suburb of Bobigny three days before the attack.

- French, Russian rapprochement -

In a rousing speech Monday, Hollande vowed to destroy IS, saying there would be "no respite and no truce" and on Tuesday, France invoked a previously-unused European Union article to ask member states for help in its mission.

It received unanimous backing from Brussels.

And it also forged an unexpected alliance with Russia after both countries were targeted by deadly IS attacks.

On Tuesday, Russia finally confirmed that the Russian passenger jet that crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula last month, killing 224, had been brought down by a bomb in an attack claimed by IS.

Following a phone call between Putin and Hollande, the Kremlin said they had "agreed to assure closer contact and coordination between the military and security service agencies of the two countries in actions against terrorist groups... in Syria".

Government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was "too early" to speak of a coalition but said the scope of their interaction would be determined by their two militaries.

Paris and Moscow have been at loggerheads over Russia's role in the Ukraine conflict, as well over the fate of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad but have now become strange bedfellows.

The alliance comes as international players meet to discuss ways of ending the Syrian war which has seen millions going into exile, triggered Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II and spurred the rise of IS.

On a solidarity visit to Paris, US Secretary of State John Kerry said a "big transition" in Syria was probably only weeks away after deeply-divided countries such as Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia reached agreement at the weekend on a path towards elections in the war-torn country.

However regime and opposition representatives have yet to sit down together, there is little agreement on the role of Assad in any transition.

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© 2015 AFP

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