French fighter jets bomb ISIL capital in Syria as ‘massive’ retaliation for Paris attacks

PARIS — launched “massive” air strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s de-facto capital in in retaliation for the attacks on Paris. The Sunday night strikes destroyed a jihadi training camp and a munitions dump in the city of , where Iraqi intelligence officials say the attacks on Paris were planned.

French President Francois Hollande approved the strikes in a meeting with his national security team on Saturday, a day after attacks on Paris restaurants and a concert hall left 129 dead and hundreds injured, the New York Times reported.

Twelve aircraft including 10 fighter jets dropped a total of 20 bombs in the biggest air strikes since France extended its bombing campaign against the extremist group to Syria in September, a Defence Ministry statement said. The jets launched from sites in Jordan and the Persian Gulf, in co-ordination with U.S. forces.

On the sidelines of the G20 summit in Turkey on Sunday, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his country was justified in taking action in Syria.

DIRK WAEM / AFP / Getty ImagesDIRK WAEM / AFP / Getty ImagesBelgium special forces prepare to enter a house in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean on Sunday. During the weekend, multiple people were arrested in relation to the .

“It was normal to take the initiative and action and France had the legitimacy to do so. We did it already in the past, we have conducted new airstrikes in Raqqa today,” Fabius said. “One cannot be attacked harshly, and you know the drama that is happening in Paris, without being present and active.”

Unverified reports from activists on the ground in Raqqa said hospitals weren’t listing any civilian casualties, according to the Times. But a clinic and a museum were listed among the targeted sites, leaving the full extent of the damage unknown.

Meanwhile, as police announced seven arrests and hunted for more members of the sleeper cell that carried out the Paris attacks, French officials revealed to The Associated Press that several key suspects had been stopped and released by police after the attack.

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The arrest warrant for Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old born in Brussels, calls him very dangerous and warns people not to intervene if they see him.

Yet police already had him in their grasp early Saturday, when they stopped a car carrying three men near the Belgian border. By then, hours had passed since authorities identified Abdeslam as the renter of a Volkswagen Polo that carried hostage takers to the Paris theatre where so many died.

Three French police officials and a top French security official confirmed that officers let Abdeslam go after checking his ID. They spoke on condition of anonymity, lacking authorization to publicly disclose such details.

Tantalizing clues about the extent of the plot have emerged from Baghdad, where senior Iraqi officials told the AP that France and other countries had been warned on Thursday of an imminent attack.

An Iraqi intelligence dispatch warned that leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered his followers to immediately launch gun and bomb attacks and take hostages inside the countries of the coalition fighting them in Iraq and Syria.

The Iraqi dispatch, which was obtained by the AP, provided no details on when or where the attack would take place, and a senior French security official told the AP that French intelligence gets these kinds of warnings “all the time” and “every day.”

However, Iraqi intelligence officials told the AP that they also warned France about specific details: Among them, that the attackers were trained for this operation and sent back to France from Raqqa.

The officials also said that a sleeper cell in France then met with the attackers after their training and helped them to execute the plan. There were 24 people involved in the operation, they said: 19 attackers and five others in charge of logistics and planning.

None of these details have been corroborated by officials of France or other Western intelligence agencies.

All these French and Iraqi security and intelligence officials spoke with the AP on condition of anonymity, citing the ongoing investigation.

With files from National Post staff

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