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France fights back with huge air strikes on IS stronghold

By Kim Sengupta

France has launched massive air strikes on the Islamic State group's main stronghold in Syria, as an international manhunt was launched for one of the suspected terrorists behind the Paris massacre that claimed at least 129 lives.

Salah Abdeslam escaped when French police let him go after stopping his car and questioning him in the hours after the attacks.

And last night the first retaliation for the attacks took place in Raqqa, as bombs destroyed a jihadi training camp and a munitions dump after President Francois Hollande said France would be "merciless" against the extremists.

Twelve aircraft, including 10 fighter jets, dropped 20 bombs in the biggest air strikes since France extended its bombing campaign against the extremist group to Syria in September.

Yesterday, French police issued a photograph of Abdeslam, who they described as "dangerous".

Two others, it is believed, may also have got away in the chaotic aftermath of the carnage.

Last night, French security officials confirmed their own police had questioned and released Abdeslam, hours after the Paris attacks. He was one of three people in a car stopped and questioned by police on Saturday morning. The police checked his ID and let him go.

Six of his accomplices blew themselves up and the seventh was shot dead by the police.

Another man suspected of being part of the wider plot, who rented a Volkswagen Polo seen outside the Bataclan concert hall where 89 people died, has been arrested by Belgian police after crossing the border. In another development, Iraqi intelligence officials claimed they warned France of an imminent attack by Islamic State (IS) just a day before the Paris attacks. It said IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered "bombings, assassinations or hostage taking in the coming days". France's Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said the shootings and bombings "were prepared abroad, by a group of individuals based in Belgium".

He stressed, however, that they had "benefited from accomplices in France".

The belief that some of the killers have fled has grown with the discovery of a black Seat in the Paris suburb of Montreuil, four miles away from where it was seen carrying gunmen in the streets where five people were killed in a bar and 19 more died while in a restaurant. Three Kalashnikovs were found in the car with magazines.

Abdesalem is believed to have arranged the group's logistics, while his brother Ibrahim blew himself up. A third brother is also "involved in terrorism" according to the authorities. All are French nationals who had lived in Belgium for a long time.

Another killer, Bilal Hadfi, who also lived in Belgium, has experience of fighting with IS in Syria and knowledge of explosives, according to officials.

The suicide bomber who carried out the Bataclan attack, the bloodiest of the killing spree, was 29-year-old French national Omar Ismail Mostefai. The Syria veteran was identified after investigators found part of his thumb amid the carnage.

Police in Belgium have made seven arrests in east Brussels.

Paris remained on edge yesterday. Armed police rushed to the Marais district after false reports of a shoot-out. Earlier in the day, hundreds of people fled the Place de la Republique after fireworks were set off.

Speaking from the G20 summit in Turkey, David Cameron said it was clear "that our safety and security depends on degrading and ultimately destroying Isil, whether it's in Iraq or Syria".

Nick Alexander (36), from Colchester, is the only British fatality confirmed so far. He was selling merchandise for rock group Eagles of Death Metal when their concert at the Bataclan venue was targeted.

Meanwhile, U2 frontman Bono (below) has urged fans to wear white at their Belfast concerts this week.

U2 cancelled two planned concerts in the French capital at the weekend in the wake of the atrocities.

But the band's first Belfast gig in 18 years will go ahead at the SSE Arena on Wednesday.

"Wear something white if you can and most importantly wave something white, like a napkin, tissue, piece of cloth or paper," U2 posted on social media last night.

Belfast Telegraph


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