GCC expresses solidarity with France
France, Russia hit IS Moscow confirms bomb downed jet
RIYADH/PARIS/MOSCOW: Gulf foreign ministers expressed solidarity with France yesterday after attacks claimed by the Islamic State group killed at least 129 people in Paris. “The ministers affirmed the support of the Gulf Cooperation Council to France and her friendly people at this difficult moment,” the six-nation bloc’s secretary general said in a statement after a meeting in the Saudi capital. Friday’s shootings and suicide blasts “will only reinforce the determination of France and the entire world to continue to combat terrorism and uproot these organizations hostile to human civilization,” said GCC Secretary General Abdullatif Al-Zayani.
The statement came at a ministerial meeting to prepare for the GCC’s annual summit in December. The GCC includes the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. Since Sept 2014, French warplanes based in the Gulf have been flying missions against the extremist Islamic State group in Iraq. France extended its attacks on IS to Syria in September this year. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE also carried out air strikes against IS in
Syria as part of a United States-led coalition, although their participation in that campaign diminished after a Saudi-led alliance in March began bombing Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.
Meanwhile, France and Russia agreed to coordinate their military and security services in an unusual alliance against IS jihadists in Syria yesterday after the devastating attack on Paris and the bombing of a Russian plane.
Warplanes from both countries unleashed bombs on the IS stronghold of Raqqa as Paris and Moscow vowed merciless retaliation for attacks that have galvanized international resolve to destroy the jihadists and end the nearly five-year Syrian war.
“It’s necessary to establish direct contact with the French and work with them as allies,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told his military top brass as France prepared to send its flagship aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean, where the Russian navy is deployed. Hollande will hold talks on strengthening cooperation against IS with Putin in Moscow on Nov 26, two days after seeing US President Barack Obama in Washington.
In grieving France, police racked up arrests and seized weapons as they scoured the country for clues after a wave of coordinated attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers on Friday night that left 129 dead and shook the country to its core. Only 117 of the victims have been identified and 221 people are still in hospital. Stunned residents continued to flock to shrines of candles and flowers, while photographs of smiling young victims have been pasted at attack sites or outside their places of work.
French investigators have identified five of seven attackers who were killed or blew themselves up in the attack, and have launched a manhunt for an eighth man, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, whose brother was one of the suicide bombers. A bus driver and a bar owner were among the jihadists, most of whom were French and Belgian nationals, while one of them had a passport apparently issued in Syria. Investigators believe Belgian jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is based in Syria and knew Salah Abdeslam, may be the mastermind of the attacks. Police yesterday found a second car rented in Belgium by Salah, while his brother was found to have rented an apartment in the Parisian suburb of Bobigny a few days before the attack.
Yesterday, Paris invoked a never-before used European Union article to ask member nations for help in its military missions that received unanimous backing in Brussels. Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the EU support would allow France to have “bilateral talks where necessary” with other EU states to establish what assistance France needed. In the Syrian city of Raqqa, the stronghold of IS, French warplanes destroyed a command centre and training centre in its second series of air strikes in 24 hours, according to Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Russia also staged a “significant number” of air strikes on Raqqa. The two countries which have been at loggerheads over Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict, as well as the role of Syrian President Bashar AlAssad in finding peace in Syria, have become strange bedfellows as both nations have been struck by IS attacks.
On a visit to Paris to show his solidarity after the attacks, US Secretary of State John Kerry said a “big transition” in Syria was probably only weeks away after an agreement between deeply divided countries such as Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia on a path to elections in Syria at weekend talks. “We are weeks away conceivably from the possibility of a big transition for Syria,” Kerry said, hailing the advances in the political process as a “gigantic step”. However regime and opposition representatives have yet to sit down together, and the nations involved cannot agree on the role of Assad in any transition.
Also, Putin vowed vengeance as Moscow yesterday confirmed that a bomb attack brought down the Russian passenger jet over Egypt last month, killing all 224 people on board. Putin pledged to ramp up Moscow’s bombing campaign in Syria in response to the attack but stopped short of blaming any one group as the country’s security agency announced a $50 million reward for information leading to capture of those responsible.
“It is not the first time that Russia confronts barbarous terrorist crimes”, Putin said in a meeting with his security chiefs. “The murder of our people in Sinai is among the bloodiest crimes in terms of victims, he said in comments released yesterday, vowing to hunt down those responsible. “We will search for them anywhere they might hide. We will find them in any part of the world and punish them,” he said.
Russia’s security chief Alexander Bortnikov told Putin that the passenger jet carrying tourists back from Egyptian resort Sharm el-Sheikh on Oct 31 was brought down shortly after take-off over the Sinai peninsula by a home-made bomb containing explosives of “foreign production” with a force equivalent to one kilo of TNT. “We can say unequivocally that this was a terrorist attack,” Federal Security Service (FSB) head Bortnikov said. The FSB later said it would pay “$50 million for information helping to arrest the criminals.”
A group linked to IS had earlier claimed responsibility for downing the plane, and Russia had halted all flights to Egypt despite refusing to endorse growing suspicions in Britain and the United States that the plane was blown up by a bomb. Putin did not expressly blame IS for the attack on the passenger jet but pledged to step up air strikes in Syria where Moscow is conducting a bombing campaign it says is targeting the IS and other “terrorist” groups. “The combat work of our aviation in Syria must not only be continued. It must be intensified so that the criminals understand that vengeance is inevitable,” Putin said.
A US defence official said that Russia yesterday staged a “significant number” of air strikes on the Islamic State group stronghold of Raqqa in Syria that may have involved cruise missiles fired from sea and long range bombers. Moscow did not confirm the strikes but the US official said it had given Washington advanced warning of the attacks.
RIYADH: Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir (center) and Abdullatif Al-Zayani (right) Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) escort Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah (left) and Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah (second right) upon their arrival to attend the ordinary meeting of 137th session of the GCC yesterday.