UN, EU move to toughen anti-ISIS fight after Paris attacks
PARIS, France (UPDATED) – The UN Security Council Friday, November 20 urged its members to ramp up their fight against Islamic State jihadists (IS, formerly known as ISIS or the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq) after the Paris attacks, as Europe said it would tighten border checks and Brussels issued its highest terror alert.
Hours after the UN Security Council passed the resolution authorizing countries to "take all necessary measures" against ISIS, gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Mali's capital, taking dozens of people hostage in a siege that left at least 27 dead.
The attack on Bamako's luxury Radisson Blu hotel added to fears about the global jihadist threat a week after attacks in Paris left 130 people dead, although there was no immediate confirmation of a link with ISIS. (READ: World mourns and condemns attacks in Paris)
In the European Union, ministers agreed to rush through reforms to the passport-free Schengen zone to tighten the bloc's borders, while Belgium raised its terror alert to the highest level as investigators charged more people over links to the Paris killings.
"The analysis shows a serious and imminent threat requiring specific security measures as well as detailed recommendations to the population," the OCAM crisis center, which is part of the Belgian interior ministry, said in a statement.
Officials declined to add further details until later on Saturday, November 21 "in order to allow ongoing judicial investigations to follow their course," the statement said.
The 28-year-old suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan origin, is believed to have travelled to Syria to join ISIS and be trained as an operative in Europe.
News that he and another attacker were able to slip back into Europe from Syria, despite being the subject of international arrest warrants, has raised fears jihadists are taking advantage of the migrant crisis to carry out attacks.
In Syria, meanwhile, a monitoring group said at least 36 people were killed in air strikes by Russian and Syrian jets in the IS-controlled eastern Deir Ezzor province, describing them as the heaviest in the region since the start of the civil war.
Russia pounds Syria
At the United Nations, Russia joined Western powers in backing the French-drafted text that authorizes countries to "take all necessary measures" to fight ISIS and other extremist groups linked to Al-Qaeda.
Describing ISIS as a "global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security," the resolution calls for sanctions and urges countries to step up efforts to cut off the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria.
French President Francois Hollande welcomed the move, even though the text does not provide any legal basis for military action, saying it will "contribute to mobilizing nations to eliminate Daesh" (IS). (READ: World leaders seek front to crush ISIS, ensure security post-Paris
French diplomats argue the measure will provide important international political support to the anti-ISIS campaign, which has been ramped up since the attacks in Paris and after ISIS claimed it downed a Russian passenger jet in Egypt last month.
Russia pounded the jihadist group in Syria on Friday, firing cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea into IS-controlled territory in what the defense ministry called an "aerial campaign of retribution" against the jihadists.
"At least 36 people were killed and dozens more injured in more than 70 raids carried out by Russian and Syrian planes against several districts in Deir Ezzor," Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group told Agence France-Presse.
He described the raids, which targeted several large cities and smaller towns in the province and 3 oil fields, as "the worst bombardment of the region since the start of the uprising in 2011".
EU tightens borders
In Brussels, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said he and his EU counterparts agreed in crisis talks to "immediately" tighten checks on points of entry to the 26-country Schengen area.
Cazeneuve said the European Commission would present plans to introduce "obligatory checks at all external borders for all travelers," including EU citizens, by the year's end.
Previously, only non-EU nationals had their details checked against a database for terrorism and crime when they enter the Schengen area.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said late Friday he was increasingly irritated that the EU was moving so slowly to secure its borders, adding the Netherlands was ready "to run the whole show" with other countries if necessary.
Abaaoud, a Belgian national, was killed in a ferocious police onslaught Wednesday, November 18 on an apartment building in the Saint-Denis suburb of Paris, where the attacks began on November 13 with 3 explosions outside the Stade de France stadium.
A police source on Friday said his cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen, who also died in the raid, had not blown herself up as initially thought, adding that the suicide bomber was instead thought to have been a second man.
The apartment block was severely damaged as police fired 5,000 rounds of ammunition and lobbed in grenades at it after a tipoff that Abaaoud was there.
Investigators revealed Friday that he was caught on camera at a metro station in the east of the capital on the night of the attacks, as the massacre at Bataclan concert hall was underway.
One of the suspected gunmen in the bar and restaurant attacks, Salah Abdeslam, 26, is still on the run. – Guy Jackson in Paris with Lachlan Carmichael in Brussels, AFP/Rappler.com