Three days after declaring that France was at war with the Islamic State, French President Francois Hollande called Monday on the rest of the civilized world to join in turning up the heat on “these despicable cowards.”
Whether other nations would join his call was uncertain. In a speech delivered at the same time in Antalya, Turkey, President Barack Obama told reporters at the conclusion of the G-20 conference that the current U.S. strategy against the Islamic State had been successful. He made clear he was not going to send U.S. ground troops to Syria.
“Every few months I go to Walter Reed,” he said, referring to the military hospital complex outside Washington. “And I see a 25-year-old kid that is paralyzed or has lost his limbs. And some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, also speaking after the G-20 conference, said the world had to work together to stop the terrorist state, but he emphasized attacking its financing, not its military structure. “According to our information, 40 countries are involved in the funding, including some G-20 nations,” Putin said. He said that he named those countries during the G-20 meetings but that he would not do so in public.
Hollande, however, made it clear he was seeking collective action. He called for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council and urged Russia and the United States to put aside their differences over Syria to work together against the Islamic State.
Speaking to a rare joint session of the French National Assembly at Versailles Palace, Hollande insisted France would not be bowed by the attacks Friday that left 129 dead and more than 350 injured. He asked the assembly to extend the current state of emergency from 12 days to three months and vowed to “eradicate terrorism.”
“Our democracy has triumphed over much more dangerous opponents,” he said.
“We are not a involved in a war of civilizations, because these murderers represent no civilization,” he said. “We are at war against jihadist terrorism, which is a threat to the whole world.”
The speech came on a day when Paris again mourned the dead, stopping for a minute of silence at noon. Around the city, on the Champs d’Elysee, in churches, in offices and in schools, people stood silently and reflected on the events from three days earlier.
Hollande joined those paying respects at the University of Paris’s Sorbonne building in the city’s Latin Quarter. He said in his Versailles speech that was because most of those killed Friday were young, under age 30.
On Monday, French officials made clear that they view Friday night’s attack as an international conspiracy. They said that 168 homes in France and Belgium have been searched for evidence linked to the attacks and that 23 people have been taken into custody. Police said that among the weapons recovered in the raids were automatic rifles and a rocket launcher.
Investigators identified the mastermind behind the attacks as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, from Molenbeek, Belgium, who is now in Syria. The French newspaper Le Monde reported Abaaoud had become friends with Salah Abdeslam when the two were in jail for armed robberies in 2010. French officials said Sunday they are seeking Abdeslam as the eighth attacker in Friday’s mayhem.
Abbaaoud joined the Islamic State two years ago under the nom de guerre Abu Omar al-Baljiki. Earlier this year, in Issue No. 7, the Islamic State’s Dabiq magazine interviewed him about his efforts and he reportedly answered: “Allah chose me (and two others) to travel to Europe in order to terrorize the crusaders waging war against the Muslims.”
Abaaoud is thought to have planned several terror attacks in Europe, including the attack on a train from Amsterdam to Paris that was foiled by three Americans from Sacramento. Earlier this year, a court in Brussels, calling him “the most important recruiter” for the Islamic State, sentenced him in absentia to 20 years in prison.
In his speech, Hollande admitted the plans he’d outlined would be ambitious. For one, he said, they would require the United States and Russia to recognize their common goal in opposing terrorism.
Despite four devastating bombings attributed to the Islamic State in the past five weeks – in Ankara, Turkey; Sharm al Sheikh, Egypt; Beirut and now Paris – Obama seemed wedded to the current U.S. strategy of airstrikes to weaken the Islamic State.
While he called the Paris attacks a “terrible and sickening setback,” he added that no one should lose sight that there is “progress being made.”
“They control less territory than they did last year,” he said. “And the more we shrink that territory, the less they can pretend that they are somehow a functioning state and the more it becomes apparent that they are simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations.”
It also would reduce the flow of foreign fighters, he said.
The logic of his remarks was that by completely eliminating the Islamic State’s presence in Raqqa, its self-declared capital in Syria, there would be no more recruits and a drastically reduced threat. He added that his critics were trying to take political pot-shots at him and weren’t serious.
“I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may,” he said. He challenged critics to produce an alternative plan. “Folks (who) want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan,” he said.
Putin said stopping the financing of terror had to be a world priority. “The war on terror is crucial,” he said, noting that Russian spy photographs show the true and enormous size of the illegal oil trade that is financing the Islamic State. “Especially after the Paris tragedy, we all understand that the means of financing terrorism should be severed.”
Hollande said eradicating the Islamic State also would require a new commitment from his countrymen. He reiterated that the bombing campaign that France initiated on Sunday against the Islamic State “will be merciless,” and he ordered a French aircraft carrier into the eastern Mediterranean, which he said would triple French air power in the region.
But he said France had to be prepared to make lasting change. He asked the Assembly to approve a beefed-up defense budget, something that could put the French budget at odds with European Union rules on the level of debt member nations can include in their budgets.
“I consider that in these circumstances, the security pact prevails over the stability pact,” he said.
He called specifically for an additional 5,000 police nationwide.
He also called for changes to the French constitution that would allow the nation to strip dual-nationality French of their French citizenship, if that is deemed to be in the interests of anti-terrorism efforts. In this, he was addressing the large and increasing number of young French who have been heading to Syria to fight with the Islamic State. At least two of the eight suspects in Friday’s attack are thought to be in that group. Denying them French citizenship would hamper their ability to re-enter the European Union.
“It’s cruel to say, but those are French citizens who have killed other French citizens,” he said.
As for others living in France, he asked for laws to speed up the deportation of those who represent a “grave threat to the security of the nation.”
He also asked the National Assembly to pass new laws increasing penalties for those involved in arms trafficking, a particular worry in France after two large-scale terror attacks in 2015 that were carried out with illegally obtained weapons. The first of those attacks, the January killings that began with an attack on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, were carried out with weapons bought in Belgium – as were the weapons used in Friday night’s attacks.
Hollande also said France would require the European Union to beef up its external border controls or face a return to tight internal border controls. He noted that internal border controls would mean “the dismantling of the European Union.”