The French government joined the air campaign against Islamic State in Syria and destroyed one of the group’s training camps in a bombing raid, President François Hollande announced Sunday.
French armed forces had previously bombed militant targets in neighboring Iraq as part of a U.S.-led coalition, but France had not attacked the group in Syria out of fear that doing so would indirectly prop up the government of President Bashar Assad.
France said it launched the airstrike after concluding the militant group was using its territory in Syria to train for attacks in Europe.
“We are acting in self-defense,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told television station BFMTV.
Meanwhile, nearly 30,000 foreign recruits — including more than 250 Americans — have poured into Syria in the past 12 months, many to join the Islamic State, The New York Times reported Sunday, citing unnamed intelligence and law enforcement officials.
Hollande warned earlier this month that his country would have to carry out airstrikes against the Islamic State. He said Sunday that the strike by six French warplanes, which followed days of surveillance flights, had “totally destroyed” a training camp near the eastern city of Deir ez-Zur.
The airstrike came as Iraq’s military said Sunday it agreed to share “security and intelligence information” about the militant group with Russia, Iran and Syria. The Iraqi military’s joint operations command said in a statement that Russia was concerned by “the presence of thousands of terrorists from Russia who are carrying out criminal acts with Daesh,” using the Arabic name for the Islamic State.
U.S.-backed Syrian rebels gave gear to al-Qaeda group
That agreement comes as Russia has recently increased its military presence in the region, dispatching dozens of warplanes to an airbase in Syria.
President Obama is scheduled to meet Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the United Nations in New York, and they are likely to discuss Syria and the fight against the Islamic State.
“I think we have concerns about how we are going to go forward," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday about Iraq's statement after he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in New York. "That is precisely what we are meeting on to talk about now. Our presidents will be meeting tomorrow.”
Lavrov, when asked about the purpose of the cooperation with Iraq, said it was to “coordinate the efforts against ISIL,” the Associated Press reported.
Hollande on Sunday left open the possibility that France could launch more airstrikes in Syria “in the coming weeks, if necessary.”
His administration said in a statement that the strike confirms France’s “resolute commitment to fight against the terrorist threat represented by Daesh. We will strike each time that our national security is at stake."
French security forces had been on high alert since Islamic extremist gunmen, one of whom pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, carried out a series of attacks in Paris in January that left 20 people dead.
In an Islamist terror attack in June, a man was decapitated at a gas factory in the southeastern city of Lyon. In August, a gunman on a train heading from Amsterdam to Paris was tackled and subdued by passengers, including three Americans, as he apparently prepared to open fire on passengers.
Millions of refugees from countries including Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic State has seized vast swaths of territory, have fled to neighboring countries and to Europe. On Sunday, at least 17 Syrians drowned after their boat sank of the Turkish coast on the way to the Greek island of Kos, the Anadolu news agency reported.