France hits back, striking ISIL in Syria after Paris carnage

French warplanes bombed ISIL targets in Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital in Syria on Sunday - their first strikes since Friday's carnage in Paris.

French fighter planes prepare to take off from an unidentified location in this still image taken from handout video. French warplanes pounded ISIL positions in Syria on November 15, 2015 as police in Europe widened their investigations into coordinated attacks in Paris that killed more than 120 people. Reuters Handout
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Paris // France prepared to fall silent at noon on Monday to mourn victims of the Paris attacks after its warplanes pounded the Syrian stronghold of ISIL, the extremist group that has claimed responsibility for the wave of coordinated attacks in Paris.

In the first strikes since Friday’s carnage which killed at least 129 and wounded more than 350, French warplanes bombed ISIL targets in Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital in Syria.

The raid destroyed an ISIL command post, a recruitment centre, a munitions depot and a training camp, the defence ministry said.

The operation was conducted in coordination with US forces by a dozen aircraft which took off from Jordan and the UAE which are part of the anti-ISIL coalition, it said.

President Francois Hollande has denounced the Paris attacks – the worst in the country’s history – as an “act of war” and vowed to hit back against ISIL “without mercy”.

French police said they were seeking a “dangerous” suspect, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam who is said to be one of three brothers linked to the slaughter.

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.

“We are determined to act together ... to dismantle the networks” of the extremists, French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said after talks with his Belgian counterpart Jan Jambon on Sunday.

As the investigation spread across Europe, police Sunday evening carried out a search in Bobigny, in the northern suburbs of Paris, but the results were not yet known.

Prosecutors said they believed three groups of attackers were involved in the carnage, and they did not rule out that one or more assailants may still be at large.

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.

Museums and parks were closed and Sunday markets were empty, although thousands still flocked to lay flowers and light candles at the sites of the violence.

But in a sign of just how shaken people are, the sound of fire-crackers at Place de la Republique, where mourners were standing in quiet solidarity, sent scores fleeing in panic before they realised it was a false alarm.

France will observe a minute of silence at noon on Monday, which the European Union wants all member states to respect. Mr Hollande will observe the silence at the Sorbonne University, in recognition of the large number of young victims, as Paris struggles to come to terms with the atrocities that come 10 months after extremists hit satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.

French authorities have so far identified more than 100 of the dead, who included journalists, lawyers, students and parents of small children.

More than 25 foreigners from over a dozen countries were among the victims.

* Agence France-Presse