PARIS – French fighter jets launched their biggest raids in Syria to date, targeting the Islamic Stateâ€™s stronghold in Raqqa just two days after the group claimed coordinated attacks in Paris that killed more than 130 people, the defence ministry said.
â€œThe raid … including 10 fighter jets, was launched simultaneously from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. Twenty bombs were dropped,â€ the statement said, adding that the mission had taken placeon Sunday evening.
The operation, carried out in coordination with US forces, struck a command centre, recruitment centre for jihadists, a munitions depot, and a training camp for fighters. The sites targeted had previously been identified on reconnaissance flights, the statement said.
A defence official was quoted by Associated Press as saying the strikes were â€œmassiveâ€ and had destroyed two jihadi sites in Raqqa.
â€œThe first target destroyed was used by Daesh [an alternative name for Isis] as a command post, jihadist recruitment centre and arms and munitions depot. The second held a terrorist training camp,â€ a ministry statement said.
Reports from sources inside Raqqa suggest the airstrike targets were known Isis strongholds, including Division 17, an army base to the north of the city that had been under Isis control since July 2014.
The French retaliatory strikes were discussed between the French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drain, and the US defence secretary, Ash Carter, in phonecalls on Saturday and Sunday.
In the aftermath of the attacks on Paris, the French president, FranÃ§ois Hollande, said terrorists strikes were an â€œact of warâ€ on France, â€œorganised and planned from the outsideâ€.
He said the attackers wanted â€œto scare us and fill us with dreadâ€, but warned Franceâ€™s retribution would be swift and unflinching.
â€œWe are going to lead a war which will be pitiless. Because when terrorists are capable of committing such atrocities they must be certain that they are facing a determined France, a united France, a France that is together and does not let itself be moved, even if today we express infinite sorrow.â€
Franceâ€™s decision to launch retaliatory airstrikes was an act of â€œself-defenceâ€, French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said, speaking on the first day of the G20 summit in Turkey.
â€œFrance has always said that because she has been threatened and attacked by Daesh, it would be normal that she would react in the framework of self-defence. Thatâ€™s what we did today with the strikes on Raqqa,â€ he said. â€œWe canâ€™t let Daesh act without reacting.â€
Information from inside Syria suggested the bombings had cut water and electricity supplies.
Activists in Raqqa have said the bombings have caused â€œpanicâ€ in the city.
Raqqa is claimed as the de facto capital of the Isis â€œcaliphateâ€, and has come increasingly under the control of the terrorist organisation since 2013.
The city has hollowed out under Isis rule â€“ the population has fallen from about 1 million to 400,000 â€“ and Isis has imposed an increasingly harsh regime on those who remain.
The US has forecast an escalation in its operations in Syria and Iraq.
In recent weeks, Barack Obama has approved increased airstrikes on both countries, and authorised the deployment of 50 special operations soldiers to bolster Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces fighting Isis on the ground.
Speaking on Saturday, the Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said it was known before Friday that Isis attacks on foreign targets were imminent. He said Iraqi intelligence services had shared information that strikes on France, the US, and Iran were being planned.
â€œInformation has been obtained from Iraqi intelligence sources that the countries to be targeted soon, before it occurred, are Europe in general, specifically France, as well as America and Iran,â€ Jaafari said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said its activists had been told French planes had carried out at least 30 airstrikes. It said it had â€œno information casualties so farâ€. – CNN