11 Jan 2015

World leaders set for Paris rally

9:08 pm on 11 January 2015

Millions of people are expected to join a march through Paris in solidarity with the victims of the Islamist attacks, with dozens of world leaders to attend the show of support for France.

A man holds a sign reading "We are all Charlie" at a rally in the city of Lille, northern France.

A man holds a sign reading "We are all Charlie" at a rally in the city of Lille, northern France. Photo: AFP

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls predicted the massive turnout to honour the 17 people killed in the attacks on a satirical magazine, police officers and a kosher supermarket.

"I have no doubt that millions of citizens will come to express their love of liberty, their love of fraternity," he told thousands gathered on Saturday near where a gunman killed four hostages at the supermarket.

France has deployed thousands of police and troops to beef up security ahead of the march, which follows rallies across France on Saturday which drew more than 700,000 in support of the victims of the three-day killing spree.

"The real battle is to defend freedom of thought," said 40-year-old Yamina, tears in her eyes, at a rally in the southern city of Marseille.

A French soldier in front of the Eiffel Tower as the capital is placed under the highest alert status.

A French soldier in front of the Eiffel Tower as the capital is placed under the highest alert status on 7 January. Photo: AFP

A security force of around 2,200 will guard the route of Sunday's march, which will run three kilometres from the historic Place de la Republique to Place de la Nation in the east of the capital, the interior minister said, with snipers stationed on rooftops.

Dozens of world leaders including British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were set to attend Sunday's march.

In an unprecedented show of unity, the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will both attend the rally to honour the victims of three days of bloodshed that claimed the lives of both Jews and a Muslim police officer.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the king and queen of Jordan are also among those set to take part.

US President Barack Obama will be represented by Attorney General Eric Holder, who will also take part in an emergency meeting of interior ministers to discuss the threats posed by Islamic extremism.

Public transport will be free to ease access into and throughout Paris and international train operator Thalys said it was also cutting fares to the French capital on Sunday.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen urged her supporters to attend rallies outside Paris, but not in the capital, denouncing the exclusion of her Front National party from preparations for the event.

Gunman's girl friend still sought

The three gunmen responsible for the three-day reign of terror were shot dead by police on Friday, with investigators trying to track down the girlfriend of one of them.

Despite earlier being described as "armed and dangerous", security sources later revealed that Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, was not in fact in France at the time of the killings.

Police are still searching for Hayat Boumeddiene, left, who is said to be gunman Amedy Coulibaly's partner.

Hayat Boumeddiene (L) and Amedy Coulibaly (R) Photo: AFP

Her partner Amedy Coulibaly shot dead a young policewoman on Thursday and then killed four hostages in a siege at a Jewish supermarket in Paris on Friday.

While police initially suspected Boumeddiene may have had a role in her partner's violent acts, a Turkish security source told AFP she arrived in Turkey on 2 January and had since likely travelled on to Syria.

The three-day killing spree began Wednesday at the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that saw Cherif and Said Kouachi massacre 12 people including some of the country's best-known cartoonists. A day later, Coulibaly shot dead the policewoman.

The massive manhunt for the two brothers developed into a car chase Friday and then a tense standoff as they took one person hostage in a printing firm northeast of Paris.

The small town of Dammartin-en-Goele was transformed into what looked like a war zone, with elite forces deploying snipers, helicopters and heavy-duty military equipment as they surrounded the pair.

With all eyes on the siege outside Paris, suddenly explosions and gunfire shook the City of Light itself as Coulibaly stormed a Jewish supermarket on the eastern fringes of the capital.

'Appalling anti-Semitic act'

In what President Francois Hollande called an "appalling anti-Semitic act", Coulibaly took terrified shoppers hostage hours before the Jewish Sabbath, killing four.

French President Francois Hollande addresses the nation during a televised speech at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

French President Francois Hollande addresses the nation during a televised speech at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Photo: AFP

As the sun set, the brothers in Dammartin-en-Goele charged out of the building with guns blazing in a desperate last stand, before being cut down.

Within minutes, elite commando units moved in Paris against Coulibaly, who had threatened to execute his hostages unless the brothers were released.

Up to five people - including a three-year-old boy - survived hidden inside a refrigerator for five hours, with police pinpointing their location using their mobile phones, prosecutors and relatives said.

In the printing firm, the brothers took the manager hostage, later releasing him after he helped Said with a neck wound, while a second man hid beneath a sink upstairs.

After Friday's dramatic events, Mr Hollande warned grimly that the threats facing France were not over - comments followed by a chilling new threat from the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula group.

AQAP top sharia official Harith al-Nadhari warned France to "stop your aggression against the Muslims" or face further attacks, in comments released by the SITE monitoring group.

German newspaper Bild said the bloodshed in France could signal the start of a wave of attacks in Europe, citing communications by Islamic State leaders intercepted by US intelligence.

It said the US National Security Agency had intercepted communications in which leaders of the jihadist group announced the next wave of attacks, the tabloid said in its Sunday edition, citing unnamed sources in the US intelligence services.

- AFP -

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