AMMAN (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Monday that French jihadists may have been killed during an air strike targeting an Islamic State (IS) camp last week and he deflected criticism, saying the primary objective was to hit the militants.
Rafale fighter jets bombed a training camp for suicide bombers near Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa on Friday, according to the French Defence Ministry.
France announced it was joining what have been U.S.-led air strikes on Islamist insurgents in Syria to prevent Islamic State from carrying out attacks against its interests and to protect Syrian civilians.
It says the decision is legal and based on a United Nations charter enabling self-defense, something French media and analysts have started to question since reports that French citizens may have been killed.
“Terrorist attacks have taken place (in France) .. In the name of self-defense it is obligatory to strike Daesh and we will continue,” Valls told reporters in Amman, Jordan, using the derogatory Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
“Whether there are French (citizens) among them, it’s possible, but we have a responsibility to hit Daesh. Terrorists do not have passports.”
A French government source said Paris could not confirm a Syrian non-governmental organization’s estimate that six French jihadists were killed in the Raqqa-area air strike.
France was shaken by a series of deadly Islamist attacks earlier this year, including the killing in January of 12 people at the office of the weekly Charlie Hebdo, which in articles and cartoons had satirized militant Islam.
It has become alarmed by Islamic State gains in northern Syria despite more than a year of U.S.-led air strikes and the possibility of France being sidelined in negotiations to reach a political solution in Syria.
Valls, along with his defense minister, is on a four-day visit to the Middle East that includes Jordan, from where French planes have been carrying out air strikes in Iraq and Syria.
He travels later on Monday to Saudi Arabia to discuss potential business deals, but also the latest developments in Syria since Russia announced its own military intervention in the country with a campaign of air strikes.
Moscow’s move is seen in Paris and Riyadh to be in large part aimed at preventing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from falling to the four-year-old insurgency against him.
Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by John Irish; Editing by James Regan and Mark Heinrich