The Syrian town is where IS plans attacks overseas
PARIS: The international coalition targeting Islamic State extremists should move on to take the group’s headquarters in Raqa in Syria once the battle in Mosul in Iraq has been won, a top US official said Friday.
On Thursday, the French President Francois Hollande had warned that the jihadist fighters were leaving Mosul for Syria to regroup in their de facto capital Raqa. “We can’t afford mistakes in the pursuit of the terrorists who are already leaving Mosul for Raqa,” he said, pointing to the Syrian city as the next target.
After a string of attacks and terror plots in France apparently coordinated from Syria, Paris is keen to secure support for continuing the offensive to crush IS’s territorial base.
On Friday, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the international coalition lined up against IS must now set its sights on Raqa.
“We need to do both things, Mosul in Iraq and Raqa in Syria,” Blinken told radio station RTL in Paris, speaking in French.
“After Mosul, we’ll look at Raqa, absolutely. Raqa is the most urgent, that’s the town where Daesh (IS) plans its attacks overseas. Raqa is the real capital,” he added.
Raqa 550 kilometres northeast of Damascus on the Euphrates River, near the Turkish border and home to more than 200,000 people, became in March 2013 the first provincial capital in Syria to fall into the hands of rebels, at the time Al-Nusra Front, then Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the country. But tensions soon erupted into clashes between Al-Nusra and fellow jihadists of a precursor of the Islamic State group. The latter imposed Islamic dress code in schools and attacked churches in Raqa as they imposed a rule of terror marked by kidnappings and public beheadings.
In early January 2014, all-out war broke out between the rival groups before IS’s predecessor seized control of the whole city.
Foreign jihadists have since flowed from Turkey into Raqa, and Western intelligence services say the city has served as the base for planning attacks abroad.