France, Russia strike Islamic State in Syria, EU aid invoked

air strikeFRANCE and Russia both staged air strikes on Islamic State targets in northern Syria yesterday as Paris formally requested European Union (EU) assistance in its fight against the group behind last Friday’s bloody attacks on the French capital.

French warplanes targeted a command post and a recruitment center for jihadists in the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in the second consecutive night of strikes ordered by President Francois Hollande, a military command spokesman told Reuters.

A French government source said Russia hit targets in the same area, a day after Hollande appealed to Washington and Moscow to join in a grand coalition to fight the Islamist group that controls swathes of Syria and Iraq.

In Brussels, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian invoked the EU’s mutual assistance clause for the first time since the 2009 Lisbon Treaty introduced the possibility, saying he expected help with French operations in Syria, Iraq and Africa.

“This is firstly a political act,” Le Drian told a news conference after a meeting of EU defense chiefs.

The 28 EU member states accepted the French request but it was not immediately clear what assistance would be forthcoming. Britain is agonizing over whether to join air strikes in Syria, while Germany is reticent about joining military action outside Europe.

A manhunt was continuing in France and Belgium yesterday for one of the eight attackers who killed 129 people in shooting and bomb attacks on restaurants, a music hall and a sports stadium in the Paris region on Friday.

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