Monday, 16 November 2015

What Is France Doing in Syria?
Both ISIS and Assad have blamed the Paris attacks on French foreign policy. So what is that policy?
After Friday’s attacks in Paris, two sides that don’t usually agree on anything found common ground on one issue: Both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS said the attacks were retaliation for France’s own foreign policy.
In a statement translated by SITE, ISIS said:
Let France and those who walk in its path know that they will remain on the top of the list of targets of the Islamic State, and that the smell of death will never leave their noses as long as they lead the convoy of the Crusader campaign, and dare to curse our Prophet, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, and are proud of fighting Islam in France and striking the Muslims in the land of the Caliphate with their planes, which did not help them at all in the streets of Paris and its rotten alleys.
Assad, meanwhile, criticized France for backing rebels against his regime; the attacks, he argued, showed that he and France were in the same predicament. “Wrong polices adopted by Western states, particularly France, towards events in the region, and its ignorance of the support of a number of its allies to terrorists, are reasons behind the expansion of terrorism,” he said.
But what exactly is France doing in Syria and elsewhere in the region? As The Guardian notes, France has beenone of the most outspoken opponents of the Assad government throughout the civil war that has engulfed the country. Assad is battling scores of groups that seek to topple his regime, including ISIS, other Islamist groups, and militias backed by Western powers. France’s military efforts against ISIS have developed gradually over the course of the last 15 months—spreading from limited sorties in Iraq to include missions over Syria and the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf.
On Sunday, according to Le Figaro, French planes “massively” bombarded the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria. The Wall Street Journal reports that the United States and France have increased their cooperation on intelligence in Syria since Friday’s attacks:
The U.S. is expanding intelligence sharing with France and has agreed to speed the delivery of detailed targeting information in support of possible French retaliatory strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, officials said.
France began airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq in September of 2014; as the Financial Times noted, it marked the first time France had launched a direct military intervention in the Middle East since helping to patrol a no-fly zone over Iraq prior to the American invasion in 2003, which France pointedly refused to join. The first French strike, which came within 24 hours of President Francois Hollande saying his country would join the air campaign, demolished a weapons depot and reportedly killed dozens of militants. French planes also began flying reconnaissance missions and delivering humanitarian aid. In authorizing these strikes, Hollande insisted that France’s involvement would be strictly limited. “We will only intervene in Iraq,” he said.
Since then, France has reportedly launched some 200 strikes in Iraq. The French task force is centered around the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which is currently stationed in the Persian Gulf. According to AFP, French air capacity in the region includes 21 Rafale fighters, nine Super Etendard fighters, and some Mirage jets. (By way of comparison, the U.S. says it has launched nearly 6,400 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.)
Meanwhile, the French have seen some mission-creep. A year to the month after commencing airstrikes in Iraq, France began flying missions in Syria as well. “In Syria, so long as we haven’t found a political solution; so long as we haven’t destroyed this terrorist group, Islamic State; so long as we haven’t got rid of Bashar Assad; we will not find a solution,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told Christiane Amanpour in September. In October, French strikes hit an ISIS camp in Raqqa, rumored to be housing foreign fighters including French nationals. Last week, French officials said planes had struck an ISIS-controlled oil refinery in Syria.
It’s worth noting that the ISIS statement translated by SITE makes no explicit mention of Syria. The French military has been heavily involved in operations against Islamist militant groups outside of the Middle East over the last few years, including one group that has pledged fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph. France has deployed 3,000 troops to West Africa—a region where they’ve historically had great influence, as a colonial power and otherwise—with a presence in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ivory Coast. The fight in Mali has centered on al-Qaeda affiliated militants, but in Nigeria and surrounding countries, France has been the Western nation most invested in fighting against Boko Haram, the brutal Nigerian Islamist organization. Earlier this year, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to Baghdadi. For radicals inclined to view Western fighting against Muslim groups and nations around the world as part of a larger crusade, France’s military deployment in Africa may be lumped together with its involvement in the Levant.
Of course, the statements from ISIS and Assad shouldn’t necessarily be taken at face value; whatever drove the Paris attackers to commit their horrific acts is certainly more complex and varied than the French government’s conduct in the world. Within France’s own borders, a long and acrimonious debate has been playing out over the role of Islam in the republic, raising the question, as Shadi Hamid phrased it in The Atlantic, of how liberal democracies can come to terms with religious illiberalism. Meanwhile, the first attacker to be named after Friday’s violence was Ismael Omar Mostefai, who was born and raised in France.


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The Islamic State (IS) claimed credit for the deadly attacks in the French capital, Paris, indicating that the targeted locations were “accurately chosen,” and threatening that the operation is the “first of the storm”.
In a communique published in Arabic and French, and corresponding audios, all of which were distributed on Twitter and pro-IS Telegram channels on November 14, 2015, the IS reported that eight suicide attackers struck multiple sites in Paris, or what it called the “capital of prostitution and obscenity” and the “carrier of the banner of the Cross in Europe”. It declared:
“Let France and those who walk in its path know that they will remain on the top of the list of targets of the Islamic State, and that the smell of death will never leave their noses as long as they lead the convoy of the Crusader campaign, and dare to curse our Prophet, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, and are proud of fighting Islam in France and striking the Muslims in the land of the Caliphate with their planes, which did not help them at all in the streets of Paris and its rotten alleys. This attack is the first of the storm and a warning to those who wish to learn”.
Update: The IS later provided an English translation of the claim and an audio, as well as a Russian audio.

Following is a translation of the message:
Islamic State
France

Urgent: Statement about the Blessed Paris Invasion on the French Crusaders
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
The Almighty said: “And they thought that their fortresses would defend them from Allah! But Allah's (Torment) reached them from a place whereof they expected it not, and He cast terror into their hearts so that they destroyed their own dwellings with their own hands and the hands of the believers. Then take admonition, O you with eyes (to see).” [Al-Hashr: 2]
In a blessed attack for which Allah facilitated the causes for success, a faithful group of the soldiers of the Caliphate, may Allah dignify it and make it victorious, launched out, targeting the capital of prostitution and obscenity, the carrier of the banner of the Cross in Europe, Paris… Youths who divorced the world and went to their enemy seeking to be killed in the cause of Allah, in support of His religion and His Prophet, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, and his charges, and to put the nose of His enemies in the ground. So they were honest with Allah, we consider them thusly, and Allah conquered through their hands and cast in the hearts of the Crusaders horror in the middle of their land, where eight brothers wrapped in explosive belts and armed with machine rifles, targeted sites that were accurately chosen in the heart of the capital of France, including the Stade de France during the match between the Crusader German and French teams, where the fool of France, Francois Hollande, was present.
[They also targeted] the Bataclan Conference Center, where hundreds of apostates had gathered in a profligate prostitution party, and other areas in the 10th and 11th and 18th [arrondissements] and in a coordinated fashion. So Paris shook under their feet, and its streets were tight upon them, and the result of the attacks was the death of no less than 100 Crusaders and the wounding of more than those, and unto Allah is all praise and gratitude.
Allah had granted our brothers their wish and gave them what they loved, for they detonated their belts in the gatherings of the disbelievers after running out of ammunition, we ask Allah to accept them among the martyrs and make us follow them.
Let France and those who walk in its path know that they will remain on the top of the list of targets of the Islamic State, and that the smell of death will never leave their noses as long as they lead the convoy of the Crusader campaign, and dare to curse our Prophet, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, and are proud of fighting Islam in France and striking the Muslims in the land of the Caliphate with their planes, which did not help them at all in the streets of Paris and its rotten alleys. This attack is the first of the storm and a warning to those who wish to learn.
Allah is Great
“But honor, power and glory belong to Allah, and to His Messenger (Muhammad), and to the believers, but the hypocrites know not.” [From Al-Munafiqun: 8]
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France's military launched "massive" retaliatory airstrikes against Islamic State sites in Syria on Sunday night, saying French aircraft struck a command center and training camp at Raqqa.
The French Air Force posted videos on its Facebook page of the planes embarking on the raid of the extremist group's de facto capital. The strikes come two days after the worst attacks in Paris since World War II. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks at six sites that killed 132 people and wounded hundreds more.
The French Defense Ministry said the strikes targeted a command post, a training camp and a weapons depot, dropping 20 bombs on Raqqa. It said 10 fighter jets in the operation came from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan in coordination with U.S. forces.
Speaking in Turkey at the G-20 summit, French Foreign Minister Lauren Fabius said, "France has always said that because she has been threatened and attacked by (Isis) it would be normal that she react in the framework of self defense," The Financial Times reported. "It would be normal to take action. That’s what we did with the strikes on Raqqa, which is their headquarter. We cannot let (Isis) act without reacting.”
A U.S.-led coalition that includes France has been conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria since last year.
A group of anti-Islamic State activists in Syria called Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently reported Sunday that at least 30 airstrikes had hit Raqqa "so far."
"No civilians hit so far, the hospitals are reporting. Electricity and water shut down. Panic among the civilians,” the group posted on its website. “Areas hit: Stadium, museum, hospital, government building (municipal).”
“It’s sad how it always falls on our heads. Pray for us,” the group said.
The group was created by 17 Syrian activists in April 2014 to document abuses by the Islamic State after the militant group took over and declared the northern Syrian city of Raqqa to be the caliphate’s capital.
Working anonymously for their safety, members of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently secretly film and report from within the city and send the information to local and outside news media.
Contributing: Jabeen Bhatti

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