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France seeks EU security aid, launches new airstrikes on IS

Posted at 5:21 AM, Nov 17, 2015

PARIS (AP) — France made an unprecedented demand Tuesday that its European Union allies support its military action against the Islamic State group and launched new airstrikes on the militants' stronghold in Syria.

The French government invoked a never-before-used article of the EU's Lisbon Treaty obliging members of the 28-nation bloc to give "aid and assistance by all the means in their power" to a member country that is "the victim of armed aggression on its territory."

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for attacks Friday in Paris that killed at least 129 people and left over 350 wounded.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said EU partners could help "either by taking part in France's operations in Syria or Iraq, or by easing the load or providing support for France in other operations."

Arriving for talks in Brussels with his EU counterparts, Greek Defense Minister Panagiotis Kammenos told reporters that the Paris attacks were a game-changer for the bloc.

"This is Sept. 11 for Europe," he said.

French military spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron said the latest airstrikes in the Islamic State group's de-facto capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa destroyed a command post and training camp.

The Paris attacks have galvanized international determination to confront the militants. President Francois Hollande has vowed to forge a united coalition capable of defeating the jihadists at home and abroad. NATO allies were sharing intelligence and working closely with France, the alliance's secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said.

Authorities have yet to announce the capture of anyone suspected of direct involvement in the slaughter on Friday, though police have used emergency powers to conduct almost 300 searches that have netted 127 arrests and 31 weapons.

Seven of the Paris attackers died Friday — six after detonating suicide belts and a seventh from police gunfire — but Iraqi intelligence officials told The Associated Press that its sources indicated 19 had participated in the Paris attacks and five others had provided hands-on logistical support.

As an international police manhunt continued for fugitive Salah Abdeslam, German police said three people were arrested Tuesday in the case by a SWAT team near the western city of Aachen, close to the border with Belgium. They were not Germans, police spokesman Werner Schneider said. Local media said two women and one man were arrested as they left a job center.

Two brothers linked to the Paris attacks both rented lodgings in the French capital days prior to the carnage, a French judicial official told The Associated Press.

Brahim Abdeslam, who died Friday, and Salah Abdeslam booked a hotel in the southeastern suburb of Alfortville and rented a house in the northeastern suburb of Bobigny several days before the attacks, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation.

Meanwhile, another car with Belgian license plates and a shattered front passenger window found Tuesday in northern Paris could be linked to the attacks, officials said. It was the third vehicle identified as having possible links to the investigation.

Belgium said it would deploy up to 300 extra soldiers to help provide security in major cities, bringing the total number in the streets to 520.

In Belgium, a lawyer for one of the two people arrested there said his client admits going to France, but only to pick up a friend. Defense lawyer Xavier Carrette told the APs that his client, 27-year-old Mohammed Amri, was arrested over the weekend and is being held on charges of terrorist acts and being part of a terrorist conspiracy.

Noting that victims of the attacks came from at least 19 nations, Hollande says the international community, led by the U.S. and Russia, must overcome their deep-seated divisions over Syria to destroy IS on its home turf.

"(Syria is) the biggest factory of terrorism the world has ever known and the international community is still too divided and too incoherent" in its response, Hollande said, adding that the "acts of war" in Paris were decided upon and planned in Syria.

A cease-fire between Syria's government and the opposition — which would allow nations supporting Syria's various factions to focus more on IS — could be just weeks away, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said. He described it as potentially a "gigantic step," opening the way for deeper international cooperation.

Kerry flew to France as a gesture of solidarity and met Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Tuesday.

Standing with Hollande at the Elysee Palace, Kerry said the carnage in the French capital, along with recent attacks in Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey, made it clear that more pressure must be brought to bear on Islamic State extremists.

French and other Western intelligence agencies are facing an urgent challenge to track down the surviving members of the three Islamic State cells that inflicted the unprecedented bloodshed in Paris and, perhaps more importantly, to target their commanders in IS-controlled parts of Syria.

A French security official said anti-terror intelligence officials had identified Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan descent, as the chief architect of the attacks on a Paris concert hall, a French soccer game and popular nightspots in one of Paris' trendiest districts.

The official cited chatter from IS figures that Abaaoud had recommended a concert as an ideal target for inflicting maximum casualties, as well as electronic communications between Abaaoud and one of the Paris attackers who blew himself up. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive investigation.

Abaaoud came to public attention last year by boasting in an IS propaganda video about his pride in piling the dead bodies of "infidel" enemies into a trailer.

Anti-terror agencies have previously linked him to a series of abortive shooting plots this year in Belgium and France, including a planned attack on a train that was thwarted by American passengers who overpowered the lone gunman.

Still, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve conceded that "the majority of those who were involved in this attack were unknown to our services."

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower shut down again Tuesday, after opening for just a day Monday, and heavily armed troops patrolled the courtyard of the Louvre Museum.

In a show of solidarity, British Prime Minister David Cameron will be joining Prince William at a friendly soccer match Tuesday night between England and France in London's Wembley Stadium. Armed police were to patrol the site and British fans, in a show of solidarity, were encouraged to sing the French national anthem as well.