ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis on Monday said efforts to stop Islamic militants from attacking religious minorities in Iraq are legitimate but said the international community – and not just one country – should decide how to intervene.

Francis was asked if he approved of the unilateral U.S. airstrikes on militants of the Islamic State group, who have captured swaths of northern and western Iraq and northeastern Syria and have forced minority Christians and others to either convert to Islam or flee their homes.

“In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor,” Francis said. “I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.”

Francis said he and his advisers were considering whether he might go to northern Iraq himself to show solidarity with persecuted Christians, but he was holding off for now.

Francis staged a global prayer and fast for peace when the U.S. threatened airstrikes on Syria last year.

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