France hunts suspect, prepares for mass anti-terrorism rally
PARIS (AP) — France vowed to combat terrorism with “a cry for freedom” in a giant rally for unity Sunday after three days of bloodshed that horrified the world. Police searched for a woman linked to the three al-Qaida-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 have left France a changed land.
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 tens of thousands already guarding synagogues, mosques, schools and other sites around France.
Unity against extremism is the overriding message for Sunday’s rally. Among the expected attendees are the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president. The Ukrainian president and Russian foreign minister, And the leaders of Britain, Germany, NATO, the Arab League and African nations. And the French masses, from across the political and religious spectrum.
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-Qaida’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.
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 on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
The French 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.
The prime minister and Muslim and Christian supporters joined Jewish groups in a vigil after sundown Saturday to mourn the four people killed at the kosher market. 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-Qaida 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.
Printing house chief Michel Catalano, held hostage briefly by the brothers, told The Associated Press on Saturday that he feels like “a survivor.”
Catalano said he did what he could to keep them from finding out that there was another employee hiding inside. “If I’m still here today, it’s because they allowed me to leave.”
Western countries have voiced increasing fears about Islamic radicals who train abroad and come home to stage attacks.
Al-Qaida 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-Qaida 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. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders launched a fund Saturday to raise money to allow it to continue publishing.
While the prime minister called Sunday’s march a “cry for freedom,” a witness to the kosher market massacre said the country isn’t taking the Islamic extremist threat seriously enough.
“We’re a country at war,” said Daikh Ramdan, 28, manager of a nearby service station. “We haven’t understood.”
Contributors included Associated Press writers Trung Latieule, Thomas Adamson, Elaine Ganley, Adam Pemble and Deborah Gouffran in Paris; Desmond O. Butler in Istanbul; Chris van den Hond in Dammartin-en-Goele, France, and Aron Heller in Jerusalem.