French jets have launched a series of ‘massive’ air strikes on ISIS in Syria as the country started its ‘pitiless’ retribution for the terror attacks on Paris.
The blitz was conducted by ten fighter planes which dropped 20 bombs on the terror group’s capital of Raqqa, destroying a key command centre, training camp and munitions dump, throwing the city into panic.
The bombardment came just two days after President Francois Hollande said the co-ordinated attacks in Paris that killed up to 129 people was an ‘act of war’ and vowed to strike ISIS in Syria ‘without mercy’.
In France, police carried out around 150 co-ordinated anti-terrorism raids across the country this morning, arresting dozens of suspects and seizing a cache of weapons including a rocket launcher.
A huge manhunt is also underway for accomplices of the Islamist cell including one of the bomb plotters who is still on the run today after police let him go in a string of incredible security blunders before and after the atrocity on Friday night.
A French official has also identified the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks as Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, meanwhile, has warned that authorities believe new terror attacks are being planned in France and in other European countries following the carnage.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has also called for the dissolution of mosques ‘where hatred is preached’ in comments made on French television.
The air strikes in Syria, carried out in co-ordination with U.S. forces, struck a command centre, recruitment centre for jihadists, a munitions depot and a training camp for fighters, it said.
Activists inside Syria have suggested that no civilian casualties have been sustained in the Raqqa bombings.
Water supplies and electricity have reportedly been cut as a result of the air strikes, with activists claiming there has been ‘panic’ inside the city.
‘The raid… including 10 fighter jets, was launched simultaneously from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. Twenty bombs were dropped,’ the French Defence ministry statement said last night.
Meanwhile, heavily armed tactical units launched more than 150 pre-dawn raids at addresses in Toulouse, Lyon, Grenoble, Calais and two suburbs of Paris.
French media reports a rocket launcher, flack jackets, several pistols and a Kalashnikov assault rifle were among the cache of weapons seized in Lyon overnight, with five people arrested.
They were among dozens of arrests in areas linked with radical Islamists who may have helped seven suicide bombers carry out the carnage.
French security sources said a fourth terrorist had now been identified as Frenchman Samy Aminour, 28, after raids on addresses in the Parisian suburbs of Seine-Saint-Denis and Bobigny linked to his family overnight.
Aminour, thought to be one of four jihadis who massacred 89 fans at the Bataclan rock gig, is said to have been known to French anti-terror police since 2012 when he was prosecuted for trying to flee France for Yemen.
This morning, Mr Valls said that new terror attacks are being planned in France and in other European countries.
‘We know that operations were being prepared and are still being prepared, not only against France but other European countries too,’ he said.
France would be living with the threat of terror attacks ‘for a long time’, he said.
Valls said he was struck by the fact that young people had been targeted in Friday’s attacks on a concert hall, bars and restaurants and outside the Stade de France stadium.
France and other countries in Europe today observed a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the worst-ever terror attacks on French soil.
In Paris, President Francois Hollande and his cabinet, all dressed in black, bowed their heads at the Sorbonne University, surrounded by scores of students.
And at Place de la Republique near the site of many of Friday’s attacks, hundreds more stood still to remember the 129 people who were killed in the bloodbath.
Large crowds also gathered in silence by the Bataclan music venue where 89 people were died, and outside a nearby bar and restaurant where 15 people were murdered.
Mr Valls comments came as serious questions were being asked of France’s security operation after it emerged one of the fugitives wanted over the Paris bloodbath was arrested then released by police hours after the attacks.
Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, 26, from a suburb of Brussels known as the ‘jihadi’ capital of Europe, is now the subject of a vast international manhunt – after being questioned and let go by officers guarding the Belgian border.
One of his brothers, Ibrahim Abdeslam, 31, was one of seven terrorists who died on Friday night after he blew himself up in a solo attack outside cafe Comptoir Voltaire. He had rented a black Seat found yesterday in Paris packed with AK-47s and ammunition.
The third sibling, Mohammed Abdeslam, was in custody in Belgium last night after being arrested in a Brussels, where the ISIS terror cell may have met before the raid to gather automatic weapons and suicide vests.
French police broadcast the name and image of Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old born in Brussels, across Europe, warning that he is very dangerous.
‘Do not intervene yourself,’ his arrest warrant says.
He is believed to have played a key role in planning the operations.
Four French officials acknowledged that police had Abdeslam in their grasp, when they stopped a car carrying him and two other men near the Belgian border early today.
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 were killed.
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 authorisation to publicly disclose such details.
It is now known that three of the suicide bombers were French nationals, two of whom lived in the Belgian capital Brussels.
In a further sign of the growing Belgian connection, investigators said two cars used in the violence were hired there.
One was found near the Bataclan venue, and the other in the suburb of Montreuil east of Paris, with a number of AK47 rifles inside.
Witnesses said the second car, a black Seat, was used by the gunmen who shot dozens of people in bars and restaurants in the hip Canal St Martin area of Paris.
The first attacker to be named by investigators was Omar Ismail Mostefai, a 29-year-old French citizen, who was identified by a severed finger found among the carnage at the Bataclan.
Meanwhile, the discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one suicide attacker has raised fears that some of the assailants might have entered Europe as part of the huge influx of people fleeing Syria’s civil war.
Greek and Serbian authorities have confirmed the passport was issued to a man who registered as a refugee in October on the island of Leros and applied for asylum in Serbia a few days later.
Clues about the extent of the terror plot have emerged from Baghdad, where senior Iraqi officials told the the AP news agency that France and other countries had been warned on Thursday of an imminent attack.
An Iraqi intelligence dispatch warned that Islamic State group 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 Islamic State’s de-facto capital.
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.
Last night French intelligence officials were quizzing a man suspected of being a quartermaster to the Paris murder gang.
The suspect – identified only as ‘Vlatko V’, 51 – had driven 750 miles from Montenegro through Croatia, Slovenia and Austria, before he was stopped on an autobahn in Bavaria last Thursday.
Officers discovered eight loaded AK-47 assault rifles in secret compartments of his Volkswagen Golf.
Three handguns, two hand grenades, fuses, detonators and almost half a pound of TNT completed the mini arsenal.
Also found in the vehicle were several Parisian telephone numbers and other addresses.
The man, who is Muslim according to unconfirmed reports, has no apparent previous criminal record or specific links to radical Islamists.
But police believe he is linked to organised crime groups in Montenegro that may have agreed to supply weaponry to jihadi groups.
A German intelligence source said police officers blundered by not reporting the seizure to anti-terror specialists in Berlin, who may have alerted France.
It also emerged that French security police arrested a man in August on suspicion of plotting a terror attack on a concert venue.
The man was held just two months after he returned from a six-day trip to Raqqa, Syria.
According to reports, the suspect confessed that he was ordered by an ISIS leader to return to Europe or France to carry out an atrocity and suggested a busy concert hall as an ideal target.
The apparent intelligence failures come amid an ongoing inquiry into the fatal errors by the security services in the lead up to the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris in January.