Troops deployed around edgy Paris ahead of rally
Hollande urges people to be alert, warns of more threats
Muslim girls take part in a rally to show their solidarity to the victims of the Paris terror attacks at Piazza Duomo in Milan on Saturday. — AFP
Paris — France deployed hundreds of troops around Paris on Saturday, beefing up security on the eve of a march expected to draw more than a million in tribute to 17 victims of a three-day terror killing spree.
Fears remained acute and security levels were kept at France’s highest level as the girlfriend of one of three gunmen killed in a fiery climax to twin hostage dramas on Friday was still on the loose.
But refusing to be cowed, more than 200,000 poured onto the streets in cities across France in poignantly silent marches paying tribute to those killed in the nation’s bloodiest week in more than half a century.
The marches across the country were a taste of what was to come in Paris on Sunday, where a monster rally will be held for national unity, to be attended by President Francois Hollande and a host of world leaders.
The defence ministry said it was sending another 500 soldiers into the greater Paris area, bringing current numbers to some 1,350 troops. After Friday’s dramatic events, Hollande warned grimly that the threats facing France “weren’t over”, comments followed by a chilling new threat from a Yemen-based Al Qaeda group.
Security forces were focused on hunting down 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, the “armed and dangerous” partner of Amedy Coulibaly who took terrified shoppers hostage in a Jewish supermarket on Friday, killing four of them.
People laid flowers at the shop as a tribute and one woman attached signs to a police barrier reading: “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”), “I am police”, “I am mourning”, “I am Jewish.”
Before Coulibaly was killed by elite police in a massive assault on the store, he told journalists he was a member of the terrorist group.
Coulibaly and Boumeddiene are the prime suspects in the murder of a policewoman on Thursday just outside the French capital.
That attack further spooked a nation still reeling from the Wednesday assault at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly in Paris that saw two gunmen mow down 12 people including some of the country’s best-known cartoonists.
In a sombre address after Friday’s sieges, Hollande said: “I call on all the French people to rise up this Sunday, together, to defend the values of democracy, freedom and pluralism to which we are attached.”
But as leaders urged the country to pull together in grief and determination, questions were also mounting over how the three men — brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, and Coulibaly — had slipped through the security net after it emerged that all three were known to the intelligence agencies.
And despite calls for political unity, far-right leader Marine Le Pen urged her supporters to attend rallies outside Paris, but not in the capital.
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