French jets strike Islamic State in Iraq

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French jets strike Islamic State in Iraq
A screen grab from a video posted to YouTube by ISIS that claims to show journalist James Foley, who was abducted in 2012 while covering the Syria civil war, being beheaded.
SALADIN, IRAQ - AUGUST 31: Iraqi armed forces have entered the northern town of Amirli which had been under the siege of Islamic State militants for over two months in Saladin ,Iraq on August 31, 2014. Supported by Kurdish forces and Shiite militias, the Iraqi army launched an offensive shortly after the U.S. carried out airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) positions near the town, and dropped aid for the nearly 20,000 Shiite Turkmen trapped in Amirli. The government forces and Kurdish peshmerga forces have been fighting against the militant group to block their advance. (Stringer - Anadolu Agency)
SALADIN, IRAQ - AUGUST 31: Shiite militias hold the Hezbollah flag after Iraqi forces have entered the northern town of Amirli which had been under the siege of Islamic State militants for over two months in Saladin ,Iraq on August 31, 2014. Supported by Kurdish forces and Shiite militias, the Iraqi army launched an offensive shortly after the U.S. carried out airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) positions near the town, and dropped aid for the nearly 20,000 Shiite Turkmen trapped in Amirli. The government forces and Kurdish peshmerga forces have been fighting against the militant group to block their advance. (Stringer - Anadolu Agency)
KHAZIR FRONTLINE, KRG, IRAQ - 2014/08/26: A Peshmerga soldier makes a victory sign on top of a bunker at the Khazir Frontline. Khazir refugee camp is located outside Kalak, a town halfway on the road between Erbil and Mosul. It was overrun by ISIS militants on the 7th of August following an unprecedented push of the Caliphate into Kurdish territory. Its thousands of Iraqi and Arab refugees were forced to flee again as the now deserted camp has become the new frontline between the Peshmerga and ISIS. It is the theatre of frequent U.S. airstrikes that have helped halt the ISIS advance into a stalemate situation. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 19: Iraqi army forces and Peshmerga forces take security precautions against possible Islamic State (IS)-led terrorist groups' attacks with heavy weapons and armoured vehicles around the Mosul Dam on August 19, 2014 in Mosul, Iraq. IS-led militants had seized the control of the dam and they were driven after the U.S. airstrikes and ground offensive of Iraqi troops. (Photo by Sivan Siddik/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Peshmerga fighter looks at the remains of a car, bearing an image of the trademark jihadist flag, which reportedly belonged to Islamic State (IS) militants after it was targeted by an American air strike in the village of Baqufa, north of Mosul, on August 18, 2014. Kurdish peshmerga fighters backed by federal forces and US warplanes pressed a counter-offensive Monday against jihadists after retaking Iraq's largest dam, as the United States and Britain stepped up their military involvement. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 9: Fierce clashes keep going on between Peshmerga forces and Islamic State-led armed groups outside of Makhmur district of Mosul, Iraq on August 9, 2014. It's stated that Peshmerga forces silence the Islamic State members with attacks staged with Iraqi air forces' strikes, Katyusha rockets, howitzers and heavy weapons. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 9: Fierce clashes keep going on between Peshmerga forces and Islamic State-led armed groups outside of Makhmur district of Mosul, Iraq on August 9, 2014. It's stated that Peshmerga forces silence the Islamic State members with attacks staged with Iraqi air forces' strikes, Katyusha rockets, howitzers and heavy weapons. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks during a primetime address to the nation from the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, DC, September 10, 2014. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

An alleged ISIS militant calling himself 'the Palestinian Slayer'

Druze men stand in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights as they look at smoke rising in the distance caused by fighting between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels over the control of the Quneitra border crossing, on August 27, 2014. Syrian rebels, including Al-Qaeda's affiliate Al-Nusra Front, seized control of the Syrian crossing with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights today, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of United Nations Disengagement Observer Force Zone (UNDOF) use binoculars to watch smoke rising in the distance caused by fighting between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels over the control of the Quneitra border crossing, on August 27, 2014. Syrian rebels, including Al-Qaeda's affiliate Al-Nusra Front, seized control of the Syrian crossing with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights today, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters hold a position on the front line in the Gwer district, 40 kilometres south of Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, on September 18, 2014. France said that it will follow the United States in launching air strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq, as the jihadists posted their latest video of a Western hostage. AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED (Photo credit should read SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)
A rebel fightercarries homemade mortar rounds on September 3, 2013 in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa. UN leader Ban Ki-moon said on September 3, 2013 that a military strike on Syria over the use of chemical weapons could worsen the country's conflict. AFP PHOTO / MEZAR MATAR (Photo credit should read MEZAR MATAR/AFP/Getty Images)
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The murder of David Haines is an act of pure evil. My heart goes out to his family who have shown extraordinary courage and fortitude.
British Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on 3, September 2014, after chairing an emergency meeting following the execution of a second US journalist by Islamist fighters in Iraq and the threat that a British hostage will be next. In a video showing the severed head of 31-year-old Steven Sotloff, a masked militant warned a British man, widely identified as David Cawthorne Haines, would be killed in response to US air strikes against militants in northern Iraq. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
British Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on 3, September 2014, after chairing an emergency meeting following the execution of a second US journalist by Islamist fighters in Iraq and the threat that a British hostage will be next. In a video showing the severed head of 31-year-old Steven Sotloff, a masked militant warned a British man, widely identified as David Cawthorne Haines, would be killed in response to US air strikes against militants in northern Iraq. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a televised address at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. Obama pledged a relentless campaign to destroy Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria, with Middle Eastern allies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan playing crucial supporting roles. Photographer: Saul Loeb/Pool via Bloomberg
U.S. President Barack Obama leaves after speaking during a televised address at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. Obama pledged a relentless campaign to destroy Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria, with Middle Eastern allies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan playing crucial supporting roles. Photographer: Saul Loeb/Pool via Bloomberg
NEWPORT, WALES - SEPTEMBER 04: US President Barack Obama (L) meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the NATO Summit on September 4, 2014 in Newport, Wales. Leaders and senior ministers from around 60 countries are meeting at what has been billed as the most important Nato summit since the end of the cold war with the situation in Ukraine and the threat of ISIS likely to be top of the agenda. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid - WPA Pool /Getty Images)
NEWPORT, WALES - SEPTEMBER 04: (L-R) British Prime Minister David Cameron, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and US President Barack Obama talk as they arrive at the NATO Summit on September 4, 2014 in Newport, Wales. Leaders and senior ministers from around 60 countries are gathering for the two day meeting where Ukraine and the ISIS hostages are likely to be discussed. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe - Pool/Getty Images)
NEWPORT, WALES - SEPTEMBER 04: British Prime Minister David Cameron gestures to US President Barack Obama as they arrive at the NATO Summit on September 4, 2014 in Newport, Wales. Leaders and senior ministers from around 60 countries are gathering for the two day meeting where Ukraine and the ISIS hostages are likely to be discussed. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe - Pool/Getty Images)
French President Francois Hollande holds a press conference with Madagascar president (unseen) at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris on September 19, 2014. Earlier today, Hollande made a statement on France's first air strike in Iraq. French jets carried out their first air strike against Islamic State militants in Iraq, successfully destroying their target, Hollande announced, vowing that more operations would follow. Hollande himself visited Iraq late last week -- the most high-profile leader to do so since jihadists stormed across the country -- and Paris hosted an international conference on the crisis last Monday. AFP PHOTO FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Displaced Iraqi families from the Yazidi community cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing to safety, in northern Iraq, on August 13, 2014. At least 20,000 civilians, most of whom are from the Yazidi community, who had been besieged by jihadists on a mountain in northern Iraq have safely escaped to Syria and been escorted by Kurdish forces back into Iraq, officials said. The breakthrough coincided with US air raids on Islamic State fighters in the Sinjar area of northwestern Iraq on August 9, and Kurdish forces from Iraq, Syria and Turkey working together to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and rescue the displaced AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Peshmerga forces hand out water bottles and show the way to displaced Iraqi families from the Yazidi community as they cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014. At least 20,000 civilians, most of whom are from the Yazidi community, who had been besieged by jihadists on a mountain in northern Iraq have safely escaped to Syria and been escorted by Kurdish forces back into Iraq, officials said. The breakthrough coincided with US air raids on Islamic State fighters in the Sinjar area of northwestern Iraq on August 9, and Kurdish forces from Iraq, Syria and Turkey working together to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and rescue the displaced. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - SEPTEMBER 22: Syrians, fleeing from clashes between the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) militants and Democratic Union Party (PYD) forces in the Tal Abyad district of Syria's Ar-Raqqah Governorate, passing through Turkish border gate on September 22, 2014 in Suruc district of Sanliurfa province of Turkey. (Photo by Orhan Cicek/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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By OLIVER HOLMES AND ALEXANDRIA SAGE

(Reuters) - French jets struck a suspected Islamic State target in Iraq for the first time on Friday, expanding a U.S.-led military campaign against militants who have seized a third of the country and also control large parts of neighboring Syria.

President Francois Hollande said Rafale jets hit "a logistics depot of the terrorists" near the city of Mosul, which has been held by Islamic State for more than three months. It promised more operations in coming days.

The French military action, which follows U.S. air strikes in northern Iraq and near the capital Baghdad, appeared to win qualified endorsement from Iraq's top Shi'ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

In a Friday sermon, delivered by one of his aides, the elderly cleric acknowledged Iraq needed foreign help but said Iraq must not become subservient to outside powers.

"Even if Iraq is in need of help from its brothers and friends in fighting black terrorism, maintaining the sovereignty and independence of its decisions is of the highest importance," Sistani's spokesman Sheikh Abdul Mehdi Karbala'i said.

Sistani speaks for millions of Iraq's majority Shi'ites and has a worldwide following.

Islamic State fighters, who have controlled much of Syria's eastern oil and agricultural provinces for more than a year, swept through mainly Sunni Muslim regions of north Iraq in mid-June, seizing cities including Mosul and Tikrit and halting only a few dozen miles (km) north of the capital Baghdad.

Iraq's army and Shi'ite militia forces have battled the Islamic State and other Sunni militants, but failed to make significant territorial gains.

Car bombs, some of them claimed by Islamic State, have been a near daily occurrence in the capital. On Friday, two car bombs killed nine people in Baghdad and a bomb in the majority Kurdish city of Kirkuk in the north killed eight people, security sources said.

Washington launched air strikes for the first time in August to halt an IS advance on the Kurdish autonomous capital Arbil. Since then it has tried to build an international coalition to destroy the radical Sunni Muslim group, saying more than 40 countries, including Arab nations, have offered assistance.

The air strikes have helped Kurds claw back lost territory. This week they retook ground in the northern province of Nineveh including villages in the Khazer area and several others further west around the town of Zummar, which remains under IS control.

Elsewhere in Nineveh, Islamic State offered another sign of its growing authority over Iraqis, creating a police force "to implement the orders of the religious judiciary" , according to a well-known militant Islamist website.

French officials said Friday's mission involved two Rafale fighter jets, a supply plane and a Navy reconnaissance plane. Four air strikes were carried out in the space of half an hour, destroying a storage facility containing vehicles, arms and fuel, a spokesman for Defense Minister Jean-Yves LeDrian said.

Hollande has said French military action would be limited to Iraq and no ground troops would be sent.

KURDISH EXODUS

In neighboring Syria, Western powers are more reluctant to launch military strikes which could be seen to bolster President Bashar al-Assad after they repeatedly called for his departure over his military response to popular protests in 2011.

But U.S. President Barack Obama said last week he had authorized air strikes in Syria too and would not hesitate to take action, although he also stressed plans to arm "moderate" Syrian rebel fighters to help them take on Islamic State.

Exploiting the security vacuum in the north of the country, Islamic State fighters have expanded their reach, attacking mainly Kurdish villages near the border with Turkey over the last two days, driving out a wave of refugees.

Several thousand Syrian Kurds began crossing into Turkey on Friday, fleeing IS fighters who are besieging the mainly Kurdish town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish.

Turkey is already sheltering more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees and fears hundreds of thousands more, waiting in the mountains on the Syrian side of the 900-km (560-mile) border, could seek to cross as fighting escalates.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks developments in the civil war, said on Friday IS had seized three more villages near Kobani, bringing to 24 the number it has taken.

The attack on Kobani prompted a Kurdish militant call to the youth of Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast to join the fight against IS and came days after the U.S. military said the help of Syrian Kurds would be needed against the Islamist militants.

The president of Iraq's Kurdistan region also called for international action. "I call on the international community to use every means as soon as possible to protect Kobani," President Masoud Barzani said.

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