France hunts for suspect Hayat, prepares for anti-terrorism rally
France vowed to combat terrorism with 'a cry for freedom' in a giant rally for unity Sunday after a three-day spree of violence horrified the world as police searched for a woman linked to the three al Qaeda-inspired attackers.world Updated: Jan 11, 2015 10:32 IST
France vowed to combat terrorism with "a cry for freedom" in a giant rally for unity Sunday after a three-day spree of violence horrified the world. Police searched for a woman linked to the three al Qaeda-inspired attackers, but a Turkish official said she appears to have already slipped into Syria.
The rally Sunday is also a huge security challenge for a nation on alert for more violence, after 17 people and three gunmen were killed over three days of attacks on a satirical newspaper, a kosher supermarket and on police that horrified France and the world.
Hundreds of thousands of people marched Saturday in cities from Toulouse in the south to Rennes in the west to honor the victims, and Paris expects hundreds of thousands more at Sunday's unity rally. More than 2,000 police are being deployed, in addition to thousands already guarding synagogues, mosques, schools and other sites around France.
The leaders of Britain, Germany, NATO and the Arab League are among dozens of world dignitaries expected to attend - as are French politicians from across the spectrum, and Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders. Top European and U.S. security officials are also holding a special emergency meeting in Paris about fighting terrorism.
The rally "must show the power, the dignity of the French people who will be shouting out of love of freedom and tolerance," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Saturday.
"Journalists were killed because they defended freedom. Policemen were killed because they were protecting you. Jews were killed because they were Jewish," he said. "The indignation must be absolute and total - not for three days only, but permanently."
Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen said it directed Wednesday's attack against the publication Charlie Hebdo to avenge the honor of the Prophet Muhammad, a frequent target of the weekly's satire.
French radio RTL released audio Saturday of Amedy Coulibaly, speaking by phone from the kosher supermarket where he killed four hostages, in which he lashes out over Western military campaigns against extremists in Syria and Mali. He describes Osama bin Laden as an inspiration.
The focus of the police hunt is on Coulibaly's widow, Hayat Boumeddiene. Police named her as an accomplice of her husband in the shooting of a policewoman and think she is armed.
"You must consider her as the companion of a dangerous terrorist who needs to be questioned," Christophe Crepin, spokesman for the UNSA police union, told The Associated Press. "Since 2010, she has had a relationship with an individual whose ideology translates into violence and the execution of poor people who were just doing their shopping in a supermarket."
But a Turkish intelligence official told The Associated Press on Saturday that a woman by the same name flew into Sabiha Gokcen, which is Istanbul's secondary airport, on Jan. 2, and that she resembled a widely distributed photo of Boumeddiene.
Turkish authorities believe she traveled to the Turkish city of Sanliurfa near the Syrian border two days later, according to the official, who added: "She then disappeared."
He spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
Police officers investigate the scene after storming the kosher market, in Paris. (AP Photo)
The president held an emergency security meeting Saturday and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the government is maintaining its terror alert for the Paris region at the highest level while investigators determine whether the attackers were part of a larger extremist network.
Five people are in custody in connection with the attacks, and family members of the attackers have been given preliminary charges.
In a sign of the tense atmosphere, a security perimeter was briefly imposed at Disneyland Paris on Saturday before being lifted, a spokeswoman said, without elaborating. Movement around the park was back to normal by early afternoon.
Jewish groups held a vigil after sundown Saturday to mourn the four people killed at the kosher market, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked France to maintain heightened security at Jewish institutions even after the return to routine.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attacks. Gaza's Islamic Hamas leaders condemned the attack on the satirical newspaper, but pointedly refrained from mentioning the kosher supermarket.
Loyalists of al Qaeda and the Islamic State group extolled the attackers of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper as "lions of the caliphate." They described the attack as revenge for the French satirical publication's mockery of Islam's Prophet Muhammad and for France's military involvement in Muslim countries.
That attack Wednesday was the first act in France's worst terrorist attacks in decades.
Brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi methodically massacred 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo offices, led police on a chase for two days and were then cornered Friday at a printing house near Charles de Gaulle Airport on Friday. Separately, Coulibaly shot a policewoman to death and attacked the Paris kosher market, threatening more violence unless the police let the Kouachis go.
It all ended at dusk Friday with near-simultaneous raids at the printing plant and the market that left all three gunmen dead.
Western countries have voiced increasing fears about Islamic radicals who train abroad and come home to stage attacks.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed it directed the French attacks, according to a statement to the AP. Yemeni security officials say Said Kouachi is suspected of having fought for al Qaeda in Yemen.
The attacks in France, as well as a hostage siege last month in Sydney and the October killing of a solder near Canada's parliament, prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a global travel warning for Americans. It also cited an increased risk of reprisals against U.S. and Western targets for the U.S.-led intervention against Islamic State group militants in Syria and Iraq.
Charlie Hebdo, which lampoons other religions and political figures as well as Islamic extremism, plans a special edition Wednesday.
Watch: Paris twin terror attack: Police kill gunmen in dramatic assault