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World France engaged in war against ‘jihadi terrorism’: President Hollande

French President Francois Hollande arrives for a speech at an exceptional joint gathering of Parliament at Versailles on Monday.

MICHEL EULER/AFP/Getty Images

President François Hollande has placed France on firm war footing in an unprecedented anti-terror campaign that will deliver the navy's biggest aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean, bolster the country's police forces and attempt to rewrite the constitution to give the government more legal power to fight Islamic State.

In a rare address to both houses of Parliament at the Palace of Versailles on Monday, three days after 129 people were killed and more than 350 injured in six co-ordinated attacks in Paris, Mr. Hollande said France was engaged in "a war against jihadi terrorism."

He vowed to forge a united "single coalition" capable of defeating the militants at home and abroad. "Syria has become the biggest factory of terrorism the world has ever known and the international community is still too divided and too incoherent."

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Parisians remained on edge Monday but the city, for the most part, managed to return to normal. Tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower reopened. Schools reopened, too, but were guarded by soldiers carrying rifles. The bells of Notre Dame began ringing at 11:50 a.m. and stopped exactly ten minutes later, when Parisians stood for a minute of silence in memory of the victims.

Mr. Hollande vowed to fight the Islamic State (IS), which took responsibility for the attacks, "without a respite, without a truce. … It is not a question of containing but of destroying this organization." He called on parliament to extend France's state of emergency by three months, which would give the police and investigators enormous power to detain suspects and collect evidence.

But in recognition that IS is a formidable and ruthless force that is probably beyond France's own ability to crush, Mr. Hollande said the United States and Russia needed to co-operate in attacking IS targets "to unify our strength and achieve a result that has been too long in coming."

He said he would meet with U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin to urge them to join France's military and intelligence services in a co-ordinated campaign against IS.

Mr. Obama, however, made it abundantly clear that he would go only so far. At a news conference at the Group of 20 summit in Turkey, he ruled out deploying U.S. troops in a ground invasion of Syria. "It's best that we don't shoot first and aim later," he said, striking a note of caution in apparent recognition of the U.S. failures in Iraq.

Mr. Hollande's response to the bloodiest terror attack on French soil since the Second World War came after French fighter-bombers pounded IS targets in Syria and French police conducted 168 anti-terror raids across the country. The raids produced 23 arrests and the seizure of dozens of weapons, including a rocket launcher and Kalashnikov assault rifles like the ones used by the Paris attackers. The French interior ministry said that 104 people were placed under house arrest.

While it is not known whether the arrests prevented an imminent attack, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls managed to put France on edge by warning that planning for new terror attacks might be under way.

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"We know that operations are being prepared and are still being prepared, not only against France but other European countries, too," he said on RTL Radio on Monday. "Terrorism may strike us again in the days and weeks to come. … We will keep living for a long time with the terrorist threat."

The hunt for the Paris terrorists who escaped – six blew themselves up and one was killed by police – extended into Belgium. Police suspect Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, now believed to be in Syria, was involved in planning the attacks. He was linked to a thwarted terror attack in August on a high-speed train as it travelled between Amsterdam and Paris.

Belgian police arrested one person after a four-hour siege at a house in the Brussels district of Molenbeek on Monday, but failed to find Salah Abdeslam, a man wanted in connection with the attacks who is now the subject of an international arrest warrant.

His brother, Ibrahim, was named as a suicide bomber in Paris's Boulevard Voltaire attack. Another brother, Mohamad, was arrested in Brussels and released. Salah Abdeslam was in a car that was pulled over Saturday morning at the French-Belgium border, but was allowed to proceed into Belgium because his name had yet to appear on any police lists.

Mr. Hollande is ensuring that the French state has every power at its disposal to crack down on suspected terror networks and prevent suspected terrorists from entering France and the European Union. He called for the rewriting of the French constitution to assist in the fight against terrorism. He said that French law must allow dual nationals to be stripped of French citizenship if they are convicted of terrorism, and they must be banned from entering the country if they present a terrorism threat.

In a move that will raise questions about the future of the Schengen agreement, which allows passport-free travel in 22 of the European Union's 28 countries, Mr. Hollande demanded "co-ordinated and systemic controls" for the Schengen area's external borders. "If Europe does not control its borders, then it's back to national borders," he said. "This would be the dismantling of the European Union."

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Some economists and politicians think Schengen, one of the cornerstones of the EU, is doomed because of the refugee crisis and the terrorism threat.

In a note published Monday, Megan Greene, chief economist in Boston for Canada's Manulife insurance company and its John Hancock subsidiary, said: "If Schengen-area countries start closing their borders, this will threaten one of the central tenets of the European project – free movement of capital, goods and labour. It will also have an immediate impact on European countries. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany, which has a supply chain that is thoroughly integrated through Central and Eastern Europe."

Mr. Hollande's anti-terrorism measures will also see the creation of 5,000 new police jobs within two years and no military job cuts until at least 2019, even if the costs mean running a higher budget deficit, in contravention of euro-zone budget guidelines.

The nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier is to be deployed into the eastern Mediterranean on Thursday, tripling France's air power in the region.

With a report from Associated Press

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