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Nov 25, 2015 4:19 PM

French lawmakers vote to extend airstrikes against IS

The Associated Press

PARIS (AP) French lawmakers voted Wednesday to continue airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State group that claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, while Germany's chancellor said her country would do more in the international fight against the group.

Parliament's upper house, the Senate, voted 325-0 with 21 abstentions to prolong France's airstrikes in Syria beyond early January. The lower house had earlier voted 515-4 in favor.

French fighter jets joined the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State extremists in Iraq in 2014, and expanded their mission to IS targets in Syria in September. President Francois Hollande cited specific threats against French interests stemming from IS in Syria.

The vote came as Hollande and German Chanellor Angela Merkel discussed how to combat the group that has spread its violence beyond Syria to Europe and North Africa.

Merkel indicated her country would do more in the international fight against IS.

"We know that this attack wasn't just intended for the people of Paris, but for our whole way of life," she said after laying a single white rose at the Place de la Republique, the Paris square that has become the focal point of tributes for the victims.

Germany, Merkel said, wasn't just saddened by the attacks, "it also feels challenged to do everything to prevent such events from happening again."

Hollande said it would "be a very good signal in the fight against terrorism" if Germany could do more against IS in Syria and Iraq. Germany currently provides weapons and training for Kurds fighting against IS in Iraq.

"If the French president asks me to think about what more we can do, then it's our task to think about that and we will act quickly," Merkel said, adding that the Islamic State "can't be convinced with words, it must be fought with military means."

On the investigative front, France and Belgium continued a manhunt for two fugitive suspects believed to be directly linked to the Paris attacks.

In the Belgian capital, schools reopened despite the city remaining on the highest possible alert level. Authorities raised it on Saturday saying the threat of a further attack was serious and imminent.

Police armed with automatic weapons stood guard outside schools, while Brussels' subway system partially reopened, bringing a sense of relative normalcy back to the city.

The heightened alert level had shut down shops, schools and the subway system in Brussels since Saturday. The Belgian government also ordered health and emergency services to take precautionary measures to ensure their services aren't infiltrated by extremists.

"When ambulances arrive, we have to see from where they come, who is in it. Really as a precaution," Health Minister Maggie De Block told VRT network.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon said raids carried out Sunday night had been designed to foil an imminent attack in Brussels. Authorities detained 16 people, but released all but one of them the following day. No explosives or firearms were seized.

"There were indications that there would be attacks on Sunday evening and they did not materialize," Jambon said, adding that otherwise "you don't impose terror level 4," the highest possible.

French and Belgian authorities have issued public appeals for help in tracking down two men believed to be directly linked to the Paris attacks.

Mohamed Abrini, who Belgian authorities have described as "armed and dangerous," was seen with Salah Abdeslam, the other fugitive suspect, two days before the killings on a highway gas station en route to Paris.

Abdeslam, who French authorities have suggested could be linked to a discarded suicide vest found Monday in a southern Paris neighborhood, crossed into Belgium the day after the attacks. Although he was stopped and checked by French authorities, he was allowed to pass as his name had not yet become known.

One of Abdeslam's brothers, Brahim, blew himself up outside a Paris cafe during the attacks. His other brother, Mohamed, appealed on French media on Wednesday for his fugitive sibling to surrender to police.

Speaking on RTL radio, Mohamed Abdeslam said he shares the pain of victims' families and wishes he and his family could have done something to prevent the Nov. 13 bloodshed.

"Let him turn himself in for his parents, for justice, for the families of victims, so that we can find out what happened," Mohamed Abdeslam said.

He said his brothers had shown no signs of radicalization. Mohamed Abdeslam said he saw them a few days before they left their Brussels suburb for Paris, but had no idea what they were plotting, and hasn't heard from Salah since.

Emergency measures have also been taken in France.

U.N. climate talks open in Paris on Monday, with about 140 world leaders expected to attend, including President Barak Obama. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Wednesday that tight security would be imposed for the conference, with road traffic restrictions, border controls and additional police and troops deployed.

Cazeneuve said 120,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers were being deployed across France to ensure the country's security.


Frank Jordans in Berlin, Samuel Petrequin, Sylvie Corbet and Angela Charlton in Paris and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.


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