French president to up military counterterrorism support after attack

France will send artillery to support Iraqi forces battling Islamic State as Paris moves to take the fight to the terrorist group in the wake of a deadly attack in Nice last week, French President Francois Hollande said Friday.

Speaking after the fourth high-level meeting on security and defence at the Elysee Palace since a truck attack in Nice on Bastille Day left 84 people dead, Hollande reiterated France's support for anti-terrorism operations in Iraq and Syria. However, he insisted that no ground troops would be deployed.

He said the artillery support would be in place in the coming months, and repeated plans to deploy the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to the region in September "to intensify airstrikes on the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria."

"It is not about changing the nature of our intervention," Hollande added. "We support our allies in Iraq and in Syria, but we will not deploy ground troops. We have advice to give and information to deliver, but it will not be our soldiers who fight the war on the ground."

In a wide-ranging speech outlining measures taken by the government to protect France against the threat posed by terrorism, Hollande defended the actions taken over the past four years of his term and his plans for the upcoming period.

Hollande and his Socialist government have come under fire from conservative politicians who say that the security measures in place during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice last week, when a 31-year-old man ploughed through a crowd in a delivery truck, were insufficient.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has come under particular scrutiny for comments he made about the number, state and location of posted police. Hollande said that Cazeneuve had the president's "full trust."

He added that "all truth will be shed on the circumstances and on the cause of this tragedy, and on the possible terrorist networks."

While the Islamic State has claimed that the Nice truck attacker Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was one of its "soldiers," no formal links between the group and the Tunisia-born French resident have been found by investigators. Lahouaiej Bouhlel was unknown to France's intelligence agencies that monitor radicalization before the attack.

But details divulged by prosecutors earlier this week seemed to dispel the earlier hypothesis that Lahouaiej Bouhlel had radicalized quickly, as data seized from his phone and computer show a marked interest in extremist jihadism - and seemed reconnoitring of Nice's seaside promenade - months before the attack.

Five people held in custody by French authorities were handed charges overnight, local media reported, including an Albanian couple thought to have helped procure weapons and three men - all with Tunisian backgrounds - who had consistent contact with Lahouaiej Bouhlel and made frequent reference to Islamist terrorism.

Two of the five were also shown by video surveillance or prints to have been in the truck before it was used to plough down the promenade, injuring 330 people.

In a chilling detail, prosecutors said photos taken from a cellphone show that one of the men went to the promenade after the attack took place, and filmed himself there.

Last update: Fri, 22/07/2016 - 16:04

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