PARIS, France, Nov 16 – French warplanes pounded the Islamic State group’s de facto capital in Syria on Sunday, in the first such strikes since a wave of coordinated attacks claimed by the jihadists left 129 people dead in Paris.
As the nation prepared to mourn the victims of the carnage in a minute of silence on Monday, a dozen warplanes dropped 20 bombs on IS targets in the Islamists’ stronghold of Raqa, signalling the French government’s resolve in its fight against the group.
The strike destroyed an IS command post, jihadist recruitment centre, a munitions depot and a “terrorist” training camp, the defence ministry said.
The air raids came after President Francois Hollande called the Paris attacks – the worst in the country’s history – an “act of war” and vowed to hit back “without mercy”.
As the probe into the assault spread across Europe, French police released a photograph of a “dangerous” suspect wanted over the attacks.
The suspect, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam said to be one of three brothers linked to the attacks, is also wanted by Belgium, which has issued an international arrest warrant for him.
He is believed to be either on the run or one of the gunmen who died during the attacks, security sources said. He lived in the poor immigrant Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek, where Belgian police made several arrests in connection with the Paris attacks.
Security sources said the wanted man’s brother, 31-year-old Brahim Abdeslam, blew himself up outside a cafe on Boulevard Voltaire in eastern Paris, while the third brother is believed to be among seven people detained in Belgium.
Six other gunmen wearing suicide belts died during the attacks in the French capital – three at the Stade de France stadium and three at the Bataclan concert hall, the scene of the worst bloodshed.
The sports minister said at least one of the bombers who detonated their explosives near the stadium had tried to enter the venue where France were playing Germany in an international football match at the time.
As night fell over the jittery French capital on Sunday, crowds shocked by the brutality of the killings packed into the Notre-Dame cathedral to mourn the dead.
Prosecutors say they believe three groups of attackers were involved in the carnage, and they do not rule out that one or more assailants may still be at large.
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 to the attacks, investigators said two cars used in the violence were hired in Belgium.
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 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 father and French citizen, who was identified by a severed finger found among the carnage at the Bataclan, where 89 people were killed after heavily armed men in wearing explosives vests stormed the venue.
French police detained six people close to Mostefai, including his father, brother and sister-in-law, judicial sources said.
Born in the modest Paris suburb of Courcouronnes, he had eight convictions for petty crimes but had never served a prison sentence.
“It’s a crazy thing, it’s madness. Yesterday I was in Paris and I saw what a mess this was,” one of his brothers told AFP before he was taken into custody on Saturday night.
In southern Germany, authorities were questioning a man from Montenegro found last week with a car-load of eight Kalashnikov rifles, three pistols and explosives.
The man, who had been heading for Paris, has refused to cooperate with police.
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.
But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has urged EU countries to take in more refugees, said there was no need for a complete review of the bloc’s policies.
“Those who organised, who perpetrated the attacks are the very same people who the refugees are fleeing and not the opposite,” he said.