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France on High Alert, Search for Terror Accomplice Continues

  • VOA News

French authorities have beefed up security on the eve of a march paying tribute to the 17 victims of terrorist sieges this week in Paris and a town to its northeast. They've also expanded their dragnet for a woman believed to be the accomplice of three gunmen killed in twin police raids Friday.

Hayat Boumeddiene, left, is the focus of an intensive search. She's the suspected accomplice and girlfriend of Amedy Coulibaly, killed Friday in a police raid.

Hayat Boumeddiene, left, is the focus of an intensive search. She's the suspected accomplice and girlfriend of Amedy Coulibaly, killed Friday in a police raid.

Police are hunting for Hayat Boumeddiene, 26. She is the girlfriend of one of the slain gunmen, Amedy Coulibaly. On Friday, he had bolted into a kosher supermarket in Paris and taken customers and staff hostage for several hours.

Coulibaly was killed in a police raid, along with four hostages, around 5 p.m. local time. Initial reports from the scene said Boumeddiene might have escaped in the confusion as other shoppers fled the store.

The raid occurred almost simulaneously with another on two brothers believed responsible for Wednesday's deadly attack on the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris. Cherif and Said Kouachi, who'd taken a hostage in Dammartin-en-Goele, came out of hiding in a warehouse and began firing as police moved in. They fell in a hail of police bullets.

Brothers Chérif Kouachi, left, and Said Kouachi, right, appear in photos released by police in Paris..

Brothers Chérif Kouachi, left, and Said Kouachi, right, appear in photos released by police in Paris..

Sunday's march in Paris is expected to draw more than 1 million people showing unity against extremism and memorializing victims of the three-day terrorist siege. The French news agency AFP has characterized it as the deadliest in a half century.

France's interior minister said more than 5,500 police and military personnel would be deployed to heighten security for the march, AFP reported.

Security remains at its highest level, as authorities search for Boumeddiene and explore the terrorists' links to each other and to Islamist extremist groups.

Boumeddiene may have left France, according to news accounts. A Turkish intelligence official told The Associated Press on Saturday that a woman by the same name, and resembling the suspect's widely circulated photo, flew to Istanbul on January 2.

The official said Turkish authorities believe the woman two days later went to Sanliurfa, a city near the Syrian border, and "she then disappeared," AP reported.

A source told Reuters that a woman fitting Boumeddiene's profile flew from Madrid to Istanbul on January 2 and had a return ticket for January 9 but did not take the flight. The source said Turkish authorities indicated she crossed the border into Syria on Thursday.

"We call on her to put herself in the hands of justice," French national police chief Jean-Marc Falcone told BFM-TV, Reuters reported.

Boumeddiene, Coulibaly and the Koubachi brothers had spoken by phone more than 500 times, Paris prosecutor François Molins said at a news conference Friday.

Reports from Yemen indicated al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, had claimed responsibility for attacking the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and killing a dozen people. An audio recording posted on YouTube and attributed to a leader of the group said the attack was prompted by insults to prophets.

As security forces closed in on the brothers Friday, Said Kouachi said by phone that he'd received training and financing from AQAP. He mentioned his ties to Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric who by 2011 had become a senior figure in AQAP and its public face.

American, European and Yemeni sources said Said Kouachi had traveled to Yemen in 2011 to train with AQAP.

The Associated Press also reported that a militant cleric has threatened more attacks.

PM calls for massive turnout Sunday

Speaking in the Paris suburb of Evry Saturday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls called for a massive turnout Sunday at anti-terrorism rallies around France.

Leaders from at least 33 nations — including British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah II of Jordan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — are expected to join French President Francois Hollande at a demonstration in Paris. Arab League representatives and some Muslim African leaders also intend to participate.

Holder also is expected to attend a meeting of European officials this weekend, led by France's interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, to discuss counterterrorism efforts.

Terrorists want to divide and fracture the French public, Valls said, saying the best response is to mobilize in support of liberty. He warned against intolerance and anti-Semitism at a time when both French Muslims and Jews fear reprisals following the incidents.

France, which has the European Union's highest concentrations of both Jews and Muslims, has been trying to counter growing anti-immigrant sentiment.

Meanwhile, silent marches formed Saturday in cities around the country, including Nice, Marseilles, Besancon, Lille, Orleans and Pau.

Cazeneuve said more than "700,000 people have marched" to express solidarity and their sorrow for the victims.

In neighboring Germany, tens of thousands marched Saturday in Dresden to protest anti-Islamic sentiment, AFP reported.

An estimated 35,000 demonstrators voiced their opposition to prejudice against Muslims, as embodied by the so-called Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident. That group began staging weekly marches in October.

A bloody finale

In the Paris shootout, security forces stormed the supermarket near the Porte de Vincennes neighborhood. They killed Coulibaly. Authorities said that there had been "at least five" hostages and that four were killed. Police official said Coulibaly, 32, was believed to be the same man who shot and killed a policewoman south of Paris on Thursday.

Hollande called Friday's violence a "horrible anti-Semitic attack." He said France will not give in to any pressure or fears.

Speaking to reporters Friday evening, Hollande thanked the security personnel who ended the standoffs and neutralized the terrorists. He called on the French people to show vigilance and unity, which he called the country's best weapon to fight against terrorism, racism and anti-Semitism.

"But France, even though it did face this challenge, even if it is aware it has within it the men and women of the security forces, a body able of courage and bravery, France is not finished with being a target of threats. Therefore, I want to urge you to be vigilant, to be united and to be mobilized," said Hollande.

Cazeneuve, the interior minister, thanked police for their efforts to end the standoffs. He did not offer specifics about the police raids, but he vowed that France will remain mobilized to ensure security.

U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking from Knoxville, Tennessee, said the United States stands with France in supporting liberty and subverting extremism.

He congratulated French law enforcement for ending the standoffs and said the spirit of solidarity "will endure forever, long after the scourge of terrorism has vanished from this world."

American authorities were placed on alert as well. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday issued a bulletin to law enforcement agencies across the nation to be aware of the potential for attacks carried out by sympathizers of radical Islamic groups.

Police sources have linked Coulibaly to the Kouachi brothers, who were shown in a video of the Charlie Hebdo attack carrying high-powered weapons. They killed a dozen people — 10 members of the magazine's staff and two policemen — in what the French news agency AFP described as "the bloodiest attack on French soil in half a century."

The brothers and Coulibaly apparently knew each other through a common network to recruit jihadists.

Ready for martyrdom

Dammartin-en-Goele, near Paris, France

Dammartin-en-Goele, near Paris, France

Before gunshots and explosions erupted Friday afternoon in Dammartin-en-Goele, French security forces said they were in contact with the Kouachis. The brothers reportedly told police negotiators they were prepared to die as martyrs.

A third suspect in the Charlie Hebdo attack, 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, had surrendered to police Wednesday. His relationship to the Kouachis remains unclear.

Before Friday's events, nine people had been taken into custody for questioning about their possible knowledge of the Charlie Hebdo attack. The satirical magazine, known for making fun of all religions, including Islam, has announced it will resume publication Wednesday, despite the loss of its director and leading cartoonists.

More than 88,000 police and security forces had been searching for the brothers.

As a precaution, police on Friday also ordered the closing of all shops in central Paris' famed Jewish Marais neighborhood. It's about a kilometer from the Charlie Hedbo offices and farther from the now-resolved hostage situations. As The Associated Press reported, the district's Rosiers Street usually teems with tourists and with French Jews in the hours before the Sabbath.

Radical Islamist ties

Both Kouachi brothers had links with radical Islam. Said, 34, received terrorist training in Yemen in 2011, The New York Times reported. Cherif, 32, was a former rapper who served prison time for his involvement in a Paris terrorist cell.

Hundreds of French nationals have headed to Iraq and Syria to join jihadist fighters.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the ultra-right National Front party, on Friday insisted the country must fight Islamic fundamentalism.

According to The Associated Press, she said Hollande had "assured me that a profound debate on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in our country will take place and that all the political parties will be listened to" regarding steps "to ensure the security of the country and our people."

The brothers appear to have been radicalized for some time, unlike other recent French jihadists, according to Franck Fregosi, a political scientist and expert on Islam.

Fregosi said the brothers' radicalization reflects a new trend, a sort of family event in which brothers and sisters may jointly turn to radical Islam.

Charlie Hebdo continues

Also Friday, the French newspaper Liberation made room for the surviving Charlie Hebdo journalists to prepare the satirical weekly’s next edition. The newspaper plans to print 1 million copies, 30 times its regular run.

Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists have returned under heavy police protection, Reuters said.

"Since a long time, Charlie Hebdo and Liberation are seen, are like brothers. It's like a fraternity," Liberation editor Pierre Fraidenraich said. His paper had welcomed Charlie Hebdo staff after the newspaper was firebombed in 2011.

Fraidenraich said his newspaper would host the Charlie Hebdo team for "all the time they want."

Grieving for victims

Mourning continues for those killed at the newspaper, and for the two policemen killed in the same assault.

Parisians stood in silence in a chilly rain Thursday, holding up pens and pencils as a sign of the right to free speech. The lights of the Eiffel Tower dimmed Thursday night to honor the victims.

The U.N. Security Council held a moment of silence before Thursday's meeting.

President Obama signed a book of condolence at the French Embassy in Washington. He called the killings cowardly and evil.

Since Wednesday's attack in Paris, vigils have been held around the world to pay tribute and show solidarity with the victims.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, AFP and Reuters. VOA’s Peter Vaselopulos contributed to this report from near Dammartin-en-Goële.

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