The United States and its Arab allies early Tuesday launched bombing raids against Islamic State militants in Syria, opening up a new front in the battle against the jihadist group after more than a month of US air strikes in Iraq.
US media reported five Arab states took part in the air raids as part of a new international coalition formed to attack the Islamic State militants, who have captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.
The US-led air assault in Syria marked a turning point in the war against the IS group, and came despite a threat by an IS-linked Algerian group to kill a French hostage if Paris failed to halt its aerial campaign against the jihadists in Iraq.
Washington had been reluctant to intervene in Syria’s raging civil war, but has been jolted into action as the jihadists captured swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria, sending tens of thousands of terrified Syrians fleeing across to Turkey.
Fears were also raging that IS fighters, who have unleashed a reign of terror in the territories seized, could eventually carry out attacks on European or US soil if left unchecked.
International public opinion has been hardened by the atrocities committed by the IS militants, including brutal executions of British aid worker David Haines as well as US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
Early Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman said the US military and unnamed “partner nation forces” were unleashing a torrent of bombs and missiles on the jihadists’ positions.
The allies carried out some 50 strikes against IS bases in northern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activists said.
A US defense official later confirmed to AFP that Arab partners had joined the bombing runs without naming the countries, although ABC News cited a diplomatic sources listing them as Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Damascus confirmed that it had been informed by Washington of the aerial raids prior to the action on its soil.
The raids came hours after Algerian group Jund al-Khilifa (Soldiers of the Caliphate) posted a video showing the white-haired and bespectacled French hostage, Herve Pierre Gourdel, squatting on the ground flanked by two hooded men clutching Kalashnikov assault rifles.
In the footage confirmed by Paris as authentic, the group gave France 24 hours to halt its air strikes in Iraq, saying that it was responding to an IS call to kill Westerners whose nations have joined a campaign to battle the jihadist group.
The new strikes in Syria, including Tomahawk missiles fired from naval warships at sea, came less than two weeks after US President Barack Obama warned that he had approved an expansion of the campaign against the IS group to include action in Syria.
“I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” Obama said on September 10 in a speech to the nation.
“This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
Washington began air strikes against IS targets in Iraq on August 8, with about 190 raids carried out against the jihadists there.
The US has built up a broad coalition of about 50 nations against the militants.
In a drive to enlist more partners to destroy the IS group, British Prime Minister David Cameron will hold face-to-face talks with Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani, the first such high-level meeting between the two countries since 1979.
Cameron has however so far shied away from joining the air strikes, despite mounting domestic pressure to stop the jihadists following the murder of aid worker Haines.
The militants on Tuesday paraded another British hostage, freelance photojournalist John Cantlie, in a new IS video, after the release of a first one last week in which he declared he was being held captive by the IS group.
The new video launched a series called “Lend Me Your Ears”, according to the SITE monitoring service, in which the hostage condemns Western intervention against the IS jihadists.
In a statement posted online, IS spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani said Muslims should seek out and kill Westerners whose countries have joined the coalition, in particular Americans and the French.
“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European… including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him,” he said.
France sought to reassure its citizens with Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve saying: “France is not afraid… France is prepared to respond to their threat.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius added that “the threats made by this group are extremely