PARIS - France vows to continue its aerial assault against Islamic State jihadists, striking targets Thursday in Iraq, despite the brutal slaying of a Frenchman by Islamist terrorists. The French government is tightening security at home amid fears the Jihadist offensive is spreading to new countries.
French flags will be flying at half-staff on public buildings Friday and Saturday as the country mourns the death of Herve Gourdel.
The decapitation of the 55-year-old French tour guide marks an alarming departure from other hostage executions in recent weeks. This time, the authors were not Islamic State militants, but rather jihadists from an allied group called the "Soldiers of the Caliphate."
Gourdel was not captured in conflict-torn Syria nor Iraq, but in the mountains of Algeria, which fought its own bloody civil war against Islamists in the 1990s.
On Thursday, French President Francois Hollande met with his ministers on reinforcing security and expanding airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq.
Earlier, from the United Nations, Hollande denounced Gourdel's execution as "cowardly and cruel."
The president urged the international community not to remain spectators, but become actors against barbarian acts and terrorism.
Gourdel's death sparked sorrow, anger, and fear in France. After Paris launched airstrikes last week on Islamic State targets in Iraq, the group has urged Muslims to kill Americans and Europeans, including what they called the "filthy French."
Cause for concern
France has been targeted by Islamists before. During Algeria's civil war, Algerian extremists bombed a Paris subway and hijacked a French plane. Two years ago, Frenchman Mohammed Merah killed seven people around Toulouse.
But Gourdel's death and the hundreds of French who have joined the Islamic State opens a new and worrying chapter, especially for France's large and mostly moderate Muslim community, which fears it may become the scapegoat of militant Islam.
Speaking on French radio, French Council of the Muslim Faith head Dalil Boubakeur described the Jihadists as "monsters" whose behavior is incomprehensible. Boubakeur, who also heads the Paris Mosque, has called for a rally on Friday to denounce the militants' barbarity.