France strikes IS bastion in Syria after Paris attack
Blasts shook the Islamic State group's Syrian stronghold Raqa, a monitor said Monday, as French air strikes hit weapons depots and a training camp in response to the attacks in Paris.
A monitor and activist group reported a series of air strikes in the city in northern Syria, which is regarded as the de facto capital of IS's self-declared "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq.
"There were at least 36 explosions overnight in Raqa city, some caused by air strikes and some by weapons and explosives detonating after being hit," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"The blasts shook the entire city. There were strikes on both the north and south of Raqa," he told AFP.
France's defence ministry said 12 warplanes had dropped 20 bombs on targets including a command post, recruitment centre and munitions deport.
The ministry said the planes left from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates and the strikes were coordinated with Washington.
The Observatory said the targets hit included Brigade 17, a military encampment including weapons stores and a training facility in the north of the city, as well as a second military base in the south.
The Britain-based monitor could not immediately confirm any casualties in the strikes, which came after IS claimed responsibility for attacks that killed at least 129 people in Paris.
"IS has imposed a security alert on the city, and it is difficult to confirm information about casualties from hospitals there," Abdel Rahman said.
He said IS had already imposed some security measures in the city in the wake of Russian and US-led coalition strikes, including evacuating some headquarters and moving the families of foreign members to elsewhere.
Activist group Raqa is Being Slaughtered Silently also reported multiple strikes on the city overnight, saying the heavy raids caused "panic" among civilians and a power outage.
- Strikes could be useful: expert -
Raqa city is a regular target of strikes by US-led coalition aircraft, Syrian warplanes, and more recently Russian strikes, which were launched on September 30.
The group imposes its harsh interpretation of Islam throughout the territory it controls in Syria and Iraq, and Raqa is often the scene of gruesome execution-style killings.
It was the first provincial capital to fall from government control after a coalition of rebels seized it in March 2013.
IS subsequently captured the city from other opposition forces.
Experts said France's strikes could be useful if they were based on solid information, but warned that intelligence gaps and the risks of civilian deaths have long been obstacles to targeting IS.
"If the French do have good intelligence on where they're targeting and they are doing it for good reason rather than to just lash out, then it could in the long term build into something useful," said IS expert and researcher Charlie Winter.
"But there is a big possibility that this is just air strikes driven by vengeance, which, while completely understandable, may not be the most pragmatic option."
He said IS's top leadership was unlikely to be in Raqa, and that the group would seek to capitalise on the strikes by using any civilian casualties for propaganda.
"Within the next few hours I would expect we'll have photos, possibly a video out there of the damage that's been caused," he told AFP.
"There are sure to be civilian casualties at some point if there haven't been already, and those civilian casualties are sure to be paraded in front of the camera."
© 2015 AFP