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France seeks united U.S., Russia in war against Islamic State

Police officers look on as an operation takes place in the Molenbeek district of Brussels on November 16, 2015. Belgian police launched a major new operation in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, where several suspects in the Paris attacks had previously lived, AFP journalists said.

JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

France is at war and wants a united front with the United States and Russia to defeat Islamic State and end Syria's status as a massive breeding ground for terrorists, French President Francois Hollande told parliament Monday afternoon.

He also called for the rewriting of the French constitution to assist in the fight against terrorism and the rapid creation of "co-ordinated and systematic controls" on the European Union's internal and external borders, raising questions about the future of the Schengen agreement, which allows passport-free travel in 22 EU countries.

"If Europe does not control its borders, then it's back to the national borders," he said. "This would be the dismantling of the European Union."

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Speaking at a special session to both houses of parliament in Versailles three days after the Friday terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people and wounded more than 350, Mr. Hollande said "I will call on both Obama and Putin to unite our efforts to seek a solution."

U.S. President Barack Obama, however, ruled out sending troops to fight IS on the ground.

Mr. Hollande's anti-terrorism campaign will seek to extend France's state of emergency by three months and greatly strengthen the country's police and military forces. The new measures will see the creation of 5,000 new police jobs within two years and military will see no job cuts until at least 2019. The aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle will be deployed to the eastern Mediterranean on Thursday.

"The sponsors of the attack in Paris must know that their crimes further strengthen the determination of France to fight and to destroy them," he said. "We must do more. Syria has become the largest factory of terrorists the world has ever known."

Mr. Hollande's new anti-terrorism measures came as police in Belgium arrested at least one person after a four-hour siege at a house in the Brussels district of Molenbeek on Monday but failed to find Salah Abdeslam, the man wanted in connection with the Paris attacks.

Five of seven suspects arrested in Brussels during the weekend over possible links to the Paris attacks have been released, including Mohamad Abdeslam, brother of Ibrahim Abdeslam, the suspected suicide bomber who died in the Paris attacks, his lawyer said. Another brother, Salah Abdeslam, is the subject of an international arrest warrant.  Two others have been charged with being part of a terror group and with links to a terror attack, Belgium's federal prosecutor's office said in a statement.

After a flurry of pre-dawn anti-terror raids in France on Monday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said French air strikes against so-called Islamic State targets in Syria would continue and warned that planning for new terror attacks might be underway.

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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. "Terrorism may strike us again in the days and weeks to come. ... We will keep living for a long time with the terrorist threat."

Mr. Valls's warning came as the alleged mastermind behind the Friday night attacks was identified. According to Associated Press, he is Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is thought to be in Syria. A known extremist, he was reportedly linked to the thwarted attack in August on the high-speed train between Paris and Amsterdam.

According to French media reports, the anti-terror raids early Monday took place in cities and towns across France, including Toulouse and Grenoble, in the south of France, Lyon, in central France, Jeumont, on the French-Belgian border, and the Paris suburb of Bobigny.

Various reports said that 23 people were arrested, though the final figure may be higher given the vast scope of the raids – Mr. Valls said at least 150 of them had been carried out by the police tactical teams. French TV station BMFTV reported that a rocket launcher was among the weapons seized in Lyon overnight, and that five people were arrested.

The raids came as Europe's biggest manhunt was underway for Salah Abdeslam, 26, one of three brothers thought to have been involved in the Paris attacks on Friday. On Saturday, near the French-Belgian border, he and two other men travelling in a Volkswagen Golf were pulled over in a routine police check. The men were allowed to proceed with their journey because their names had yet to appear on any wanted list.

It later emerged that Salah Abdeslam had rented the Volkswagen Polo that was parked near the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, the scene of the bloodiest slaughter on Friday; 89 people died in that attack.

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The French police sweeps came as the air raids against Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or Daesh) intensified. The New York Times reported Monday that, for the first time, U.S. fighter bombers attacked hundreds of trucks on Monday that IS had been using to smuggle crude produced in Syria.

It is widely known that oil sales are a key financing method for its terror campaign, though the truck bombings were said to have been planned before the Paris attacks, for which IS claimed responsibility.

In a new video on Monday, a man claiming to represent IS said that countries taking part in air strikes against Syria would suffer the same fate as France, and threatened an attack in Washington.

Overnight Sunday, France launched air strikes on IS targets in Syria and continued them on Monday. French jets bombed the terrorist group's stronghold of Raqqa. IS claimed there were no casualties in the bombardment and that the French targets were "abandoned sites."

France said 12 aircraft took part in the raids that targeted a munitions depot, a command centre and a training camp. The raids were co-ordinated with the U.S. military following an agreement on Sunday to share intelligence on potential IS targets with the French.

At the Group of 20 summit, now underway in Turkey, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, "France has always said that because she has been threatened and attacked by [IS], it would be normal to react in the framework of self-defence. … That's what we did with the strikes on Raqqa, which is their headquarters."

In an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today program, British Prime Minister David Cameron said there were "hopeful signs" that Britain, France and the United States might be able to "compromise" with Russia, which supports the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, on an approach to fighting IS.

"We have some profound disagreements," Mr. Cameron said. "But I will start the conversation with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin by talking about the thing that we agree about, which is that ISIL, and this radicalized Islamist extremism, is just as much a threat to Russia – potentially more of a threat to Russia – than it is to Europe."

Belgium – and specifically the hardscrabble Molenbeek neighbourhood, which has seen dozens of residents travel to Iraq and Syria to join Islamic State – appears to have been a staging ground for Friday's massacre. Two cars used by the gunmen were rented in Brussels early last week, and Belgian police made seven arrests on Saturday in connection with the Paris attacks.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the massacre had been "prepared abroad and had mobilized a team of participants located on the Belgian territory, and who may have benefited – the investigation will tell us more – from complicity in France."

The French and Belgian militants reportedly communicated beforehand with known members of IS.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said his government had warned Western governments on Thursday – the day before the Paris attacks – that IS was planning imminent attacks against "in particular" France, the United States and Iran.

The search for the suspect Salah Abdelslam began in earnest after a black hatchback car was found early Sunday in the eastern Paris suburb of Montreuil with several Kalashnikovs automatic rifles inside it. The car is believed to have been used by a team of gunmen who drove through Paris's 10th and 11th arrondissements, shooting indiscriminately into the area's many restaurants and bars.

Salah Abdelslam's group was alleged to be one of three cells that launched the rapid succession of attacks Friday night. A trio of suicide bombers began the assault by detonating their explosive belts outside the Stade de France during a match between the German and French national teams.

With files from Mark MacKinnon and Associated Press

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About the Authors
European Columnist

Eric Reguly is the European columnist for The Globe and Mail and is based in Rome. Since 2007, when he moved to Europe, he has primarily covered economic and financial stories, ranging from the euro zone crisis and the bank bailouts to the rise and fall of Russia's oligarchs and the merger of Fiat and Chrysler. More

Senior International Correspondent

Mark MacKinnon is currently based in London, where he is The Globe and Mail's Senior International Correspondent. In that posting he has reported on the Syrian refugee crisis, the rise of Islamic State, the war in eastern Ukraine and Scotland's independence referendum.Mark recently spent five years as the newspaper's Beijing correspondent. More

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