France, Russia bombard IS as attacks forge unlikely alliance

17th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

France and Russia agreed Tuesday to work together in an unusual alliance against Islamic State jihadists in Syria after devastating attacks on Paris and last month's bombing of a Russian plane.

Meanwhile Germany's football match against the Netherlands in Hanover -- which Chancellor Angela Merkel had been due to attend -- was called off at the last minute and the crowd evacuated after police said there had been "serious plans to cause an explosion".

"We received a serious indication that a bomb attack was planned inside the stadium tonight," Hanover police chief Volker Kluwe told ARD.

The evacuation of the 49,000-seat venue was a sign of the nervousness around Europe after Friday's carnage in Paris.

As investigators in France and neighbouring Belgium continued the manhunt for an eighth suspect in the attacks, France pounded IS targets in the group's Syrian stronghold of Raqa for a third consecutive day late Tuesday.

Russia also unleashed airstrikes on Raqa against IS, who have claimed responsibility for the Paris carnage.

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," Russian President Vladimir Putin said as France prepared to send an aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean.

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 searched for clues after the wave of coordinated attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers on a stadium, bars and restaurants and a concert venue 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 Wembley Stadium in London, fans joined together for an emotional rendition of the French national anthem 'La Marseillaise' before a football match between France and England.

- A satirical tribute -

Satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, itself attacked by jihadist gunmen in January, unveiled its tribute cover for the Paris victims showing a dancing reveller with bottle and glass in hand, and champagne pouring out of holes in his body.

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

In Toulouse, about 10,000 people gathered in a candlelit vigil Tuesday. The southern city was targeted in a 2012 attack by a heavily-armed jihadist.

French investigators have identified five of the 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.

On Tuesday, police issued the photograph of one of the three men who killed himself outside the Stade de France. The man was found with a Syrian passport near his body, but investigators believe he might not be the man in the document and are appealing for anyone who recognises him to come forward.

A second car rented in Belgium by Abdeslam was found and it was revealed that his credit card was used to rent two hotel rooms outside Paris on the eve of the attacks. Another room was rented by his brother in the Parisian suburb of Bobigny three days before the assaults.

- French, Russian rapprochement -

As it ramped up its response to the attack, France invoked a previously-unused European Union article to ask member states for help in its mission to fight back against Islamic State. Its call received unanimous backing from Brussels.

But France also appears to be forging 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".

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.

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

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© 2015 AFP

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