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Hollande, Obama talk about Islamic State fight

25 November 2015, 13:43

Washington - French President Francois Hollande arrived in Washington on Tuesday seeking support for his newly declared war on the Islamic State group, while the US announced a worldwide travel alert for its citizens.

As Hollande prepared for talks with President Barack Obama on the campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq, the manhunt continued in Europe for Belgian-born Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

As Brussels entered a fourth day of lockdown over fears of an "imminent" attack, relations between Russia and Turkey - two countries seen as key to resolving the Syria conflict - were plunged into crisis by Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane.

Meanwhile, police in France said they were analysing what is thought to be a suicide belt similar to those used in the Paris attacks, found without its detonator in a dustbin in the Montrouge suburb of the capital.

Telephone data placed Abdeslam in the area on November 13, the night of the attacks.

Brussels will stay on its highest level of alert at least until next Monday, with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel warning that the threat "remains serious and imminent", though schools and the Metro train system will re-open Wednesday.

The security measures include city-wide patrols of armed soldiers and police, not seen in Brussels for two decades.

Belgian authorities have charged a fourth person in connection with the bloodshed in Paris, which was claimed by the Islamic State group.

Shuttle diplomacy

The delicate diplomacy around the Syrian conflict ran into further trouble after Russia confirmed one of its fighter jets had been shot down by Turkey at the Syrian border.

"Today's tragic event will have serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations," said Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing Ankara of "a stab in the back".

Washington and Paris have stepped up their fight against IS in Syria, with France launching its first strikes from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean on Monday and the US calling for more international cooperation against the jihadist group.

After a string of terror attacks in several countries, the US government issued a worldwide travel alert warning American citizens of "increased terrorist threats".

"Current information suggests that ISIS (another acronym for Islamic State), Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions," said a State Department travel advisory.

Hollande's trip to Washington is part of a frantic week of shuttle diplomacy by the French leader as he tries to rally global support for increased strikes against IS.

He will hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris on Wednesday and with Putin in Moscow on Thursday, before dining with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping in the French capital on Sunday.

The UN Security Council last week authorised "all necessary measures" to fight ISIS.


In Brussels, an eerie atmosphere hung over the city with soldiers in camouflage patrolling everywhere from railway stations to EU institutions.

France has said it will install security gates at stations in Paris and Lille for Thalys cross-Europe rail services by December 20.

A Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris was attacked by a heavily armed man in August, but he was overpowered by passengers.

In Brussels' normally bustling historic Grand Place, a few bars and restaurants were open for business but they were struggling to find customers.

The only real activity downtown was deliverymen offloading crates for near-empty shops as builders hammered together stalls for a Christmas market meant to open on Friday.

"My grandson said we should up sticks and move to the south of the Yser river, just like in World War I [after the Germans invaded]," said Michel, a retired man from a Dutch-speaking suburb.

The European Union and Nato, which both have their headquarters in Brussels, said they would boost security and urged non-essential staff to work from home.

Meanwhile the federal prosecutor's office announced that a man who was arrested during a police operation in Belgium late Sunday has been charged with involvement in the Paris attacks, the fourth so far.

Mohammed Amri, 27, and Hamza Attou, 20, were charged on Monday on suspicion of helping Abdeslam escape to Brussels after the attacks, while a third unnamed person faces charges of aiding him when he reached the city.

Abdeslam's brother Mohamed on Sunday told Belgian television he thought Salah had decided at the very last moment not to go through with his attack mission.

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