Saturday, January 10, 2015 10:46 pm
More than 700,000 people defiantly rallied throughout France Saturday in solidarity with victims of this week’s Islamist attacks, on the eve of a march in Paris expected to dwarf that figure.
The massive rallies are in tribute to the 17 victims of the three-day killing spree, and security forces were mapping out a major deployment aimed at preventing fresh violence.
World leaders including British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were set to attend Sunday’s march in support of France, badly shaken by the violence.
The king and queen of Jordan and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are also among those set to take part.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls predicted that millions of people would turn out on Sunday to honour the dead and decry the fundamentalist attacks.
“I have no doubt that millions of citizens will come to express their love of liberty, their love of fraternity,” he told thousands gathered near where a gunman killed four hostages at a kosher supermarket on Friday.
“France without Jews is no longer France,” Valls added.
In Jerusalem, Netanyahu told French Jews Saturday that Israel was their home.
“To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home,” he said in a televised statement, referring to the Jewish practice of facing Jerusalem during prayer.
“Unless the world comes to its senses, terror will continue to strike in other places,” he added in remarks on his official Twitter account.
– Gunman’s girlfriend still sought –
Security levels were kept at France’s highest level, with the girlfriend of one of three gunmen killed in a fiery climax to twin hostage dramas on Friday still on the loose.
But a police source revealed that 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, the “armed and dangerous” partner of Amedy Coulibaly who took shoppers hostage in the Jewish supermarket, was not in France at the time of the killings.
Coulibaly shot dead a young policewoman on Thursday and then took the shoppers hostage Friday, and while police had suspected Boumeddiene may have had a role in her partner’s violent acts, she was likely in Turkey then, the anonymous source said.
The source, who declined to be named, said investigators were checking whether she was now in Syria.
At the same time, a judicial source told AFP that five other people held after the assaults, including the wife of Cherif Kouachi — one of the two brothers who attacked the Paris office of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, were all released on Saturday.
Meanwhile, France deployed hundreds of troops around Paris Saturday, further beefing up security on the eve of Sunday’s march.
Already, Saturday’s rallies drew some 700,000 onto the streets in cities across France in poignantly silent marches after the nation’s bloodiest week in more than half a century.
The three-day killing spree began Wednesday with the massacre at Charlie Hebdo that saw Cherif and Said Kouachi massacre 12 people including some of the country’s best-known cartoonists and a day later, Coulibaly shot dead the policewoman.
The massive manhunt for the two brothers developed into a car chase Friday and then a tense standoff as they took one person hostage in a printing firm northeast of Paris.
The small town of Dammartin-en-Goele was transformed into what looked like a war zone, with elite forces deploying snipers, helicopters and heavy-duty military equipment as they surrounded the pair.
With all eyes on the siege outside Paris, suddenly explosions and gunfire shook the City of Light itself as Coulibaly stormed a Jewish supermarket on the eastern fringes of the capital.