France steps up security after blood-soaked week

12th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

France announced an unprecedented deployment of thousands of troops and police to bolster security at "sensitive" sites including Jewish schools Monday, the day after marches that drew nearly four million people across the country.

"We have decided ... to mobilise 10,000 men to protect sensitive sites in the whole country from tomorrow (Tuesday) evening," Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said after an emergency security meeting.

"This is the first time that our troops have been mobilised to such an extent on our own soil," he added.

Ahead of the meeting, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said one of the attackers, Amedy Coulibaly, who gunned down a policewoman and four Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket, likely received help from others.

"I don't want to say more, but investigations are continuing into these attacks, this barbaric terrorist acts. We think there are in fact probably accomplices," Valls told French radio.

"The hunt will go on," he pledged.

The alert level in the shell-shocked country remained at its highest possible, as the interior minister announced the deployment of nearly 5,000 police to guard Jewish schools and places of worship.

Bernard Cazeneuve said he was putting in place a "powerful and durable" system of protection for France's Jewish community, the largest in Europe.

The announcement of the fresh security measures came after more than 1.5 million people in Paris marched Sunday in unity and solidarity for those murdered, in the biggest rally in modern French history.

In an extraordinary show of unity, dozens of world leaders, including from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, linked arms at the front of the march that was spearheaded by victims' families.

All major newspapers splashed photos of the sea of humanity on the French capital's streets, with banner headlines reading "A people rise up", "Freedom on the march," and "France stands up".

During an emotional and colourful rally, the crowd brandished banners saying "I'm French and I'm not scared".

In tribute to the cartoonists slaughtered at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the crowd also held aloft signs saying: "Make fun, not war" and "Ink should flow, not blood".

As Hollande proclaimed Paris the "capital of the world", hundreds of thousands of people turned out in other French cities and marches were held in Berlin, Brussels, Istanbul and Madrid as well as in US and Canadian cities.

- 'New anti-Semitism' -

Hollande has warned his grieving countrymen not to let down their guard and questions were mounting as to how the attackers slipped through the intelligence services' net.

As well as Coulibaly, brothers Said, 34, and Cherif Kouachi, 32, who carried out the Charlie Hebdo murders, had a history of extremism and were known to French intelligence.

Valls has admitted there were "clear failings" after it emerged that the Kouachi brothers had been on a US terror watch list "for years".

He told French radio on Monday he wanted to see an "improved" system of tapping phones which had to perform better.

Said was known to have travelled to Yemen in 2011, where he received weapons training from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, while Cherif was a known jihadist who was convicted in 2008 for involvement in a network sending fighters to Iraq.

Coulibaly was a repeat criminal offender who had been convicted for extremist Islamist activity.

All three were shot dead by security forces Friday after a three-day reign of terror that culminated in twin hostage dramas.

Investigators have been trying to hunt down Coulibaly's partner, 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, but a security source in Turkey told AFP she arrived there on January 2, before the attacks, and has probably travelled on to Syria.

Coulibaly's mother and sisters condemned his actions, saying "we hope there will not be any confusion between these odious acts and the Muslim religion".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was Monday to visit the scene of the hostage drama at the kosher supermarket in eastern Paris that gripped the world.

Netanyahu had joined Hollande at the main synagogue in Paris after Sunday's march to honour the Jewish victims, and praised the "very firm position" taken by French leaders against what he called "the new anti-Semitism and terrorism" in France.

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© 2015 AFP

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