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France works to avert new terror attacks, hunts suspect | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Security was ramped up around the Eiffel Tower in Paris as the capital was placed under the highest alert status on January 8, 2015. (AFP Photo/Bertrand Guay)

Security was ramped up around the Eiffel Tower in Paris as the capital was placed under the highest alert status on January 8, 2015. (AFP Photo/Bertrand Guay)

Security was ramped up around the Eiffel Tower in Paris as the capital was placed under the highest alert status on January 8, 2015. (AFP Photo/Bertrand Guay)

Paris, AP—France’s president chaired an emergency security meeting Saturday aimed at thwarting a repeat of the attacks around Paris by terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda in Yemen that scarred the nation and left 20 dead at a satirical newspaper, a kosher supermarket and a printing house.

Three attackers were killed after three days of terror, but the sense of relief in France is tinged with worry and sorrow. The nation is mourning slain hostages and cartoonists, and President Francois Hollande urged his compatriots to remain vigilant. The common law wife of one attacker is still at large, believed to be armed and dangerous.

Security forces are being deployed around Paris, guarding places of worship and tourist sites, and preparing for what’s likely to be a huge demonstration Sunday to show unity against extremists. World leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s David Cameron are among the many expected to join.

Hollande convened top government and security officials Saturday morning to discuss how to secure France amid concerns that the attackers may have been part of a larger extremist network. The heads of all French police forces, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Justice Minister Christine Taubira took part in the meeting.

“The threats facing France are not finished,” Hollande said Friday night. “We are a free people who don’t cave to pressure.”

Al-Qaeda’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.

The two brothers behind that attack, Said and Cherif Kouachi, were known to authorities: One had a terrorism-related conviction for ties to a network sending fighters to battle American forces in Iraq, and both were on the US no-fly list.

French radio RTL released audio Saturday of the attacker who seized hostages in the kosher supermarket, Amedy Coulibaly, in which he lashes out over Western military campaigns against extremists in Syria and Mali. He describes Osama Bin Laden as an inspiration.

The drama, which played out on live TV and social media, began with the brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi coldly and methodically massacring 12 people Wednesday at the Charlie Hebdo offices before fleeing.

They eluded police for two days, robbing a gas station and stealing a car. Cherif Kouachi was wounded in the throat by police at one point, the Paris prosecutor said, but the brothers got away. They went on to take a hostage at a printing house in Dammartin-en-Goele near Charles de Gaulle Airport on Friday, prompting a daylong standoff with police.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, gunman Amedy Coulibaly shot a policewoman to death south of Paris. He, too, fled. Police later determined he was linked to the Kouachi brothers.

Then Friday he attacked the Paris kosher market, killing four hostages and 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 kosher market in eastern Paris.

As scores of black-clad security forces surrounded both sites, booming explosions, heavy gunfire and dense smoke heralded the news that the twin sieges finally had ended.

In the final assault, phalanxes of security forces converged on the store entrance behind a flash from a stun grenade—and fired inside. Frenzied civilians—one of them carrying a toddler—scurried out under escort by helmeted police in body armor.

The three gunmen were dead—but the authorities also discovered four dead hostages at the market.

Sixteen hostages were freed, one from the printing plant and 15 others from the store.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said that several people have been given preliminary charges in the investigation. They include relatives of the three gunmen.

The search is focusing on the fourth suspect, Coulibaly’s partner, Hayat Boumeddiene.

The attackers epitomized Western authorities’ greatest fear: Islamic radicals who trained abroad and came home to stage attacks. France counts at least 1,200 citizens in the war zone in Syria—headed there, returned or dead. Both the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda have threatened France, home to Western Europe’s largest Muslim population.

A member of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which operates in Yemen, gave a statement in English to The Associated Press saying the group’s leadership “directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully.”

The attack was in line with warnings from the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden to the West about “the consequences of the persistence in the blasphemy against Muslim sanctities,” the member said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the group’s regulations do not permit him to give his name.

At the kosher grocery near the Porte de Vincennes neighborhood of the capital, the gunman burst in shooting just a few hours before the Jewish Sabbath began, declaring “You know who I am,” the official recounted.

The attack came before sundown when the store would have been crowded with shoppers, and Hollande called it “a terrifying anti-Semitic act.”

According to a Yemeni security official, Said Kouachi is suspected of having fought for AQAP. Another senior security official added that Said was in Yemen until 2012.

Both officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of an ongoing investigation into Kouachi’s stay in Yemen.

The attacks in France as well as a hostage siege last month in Sydney and the October killing of a soldier near Canada’s parliament prompted the US State Department to issue a global travel warning for Americans. It also cites an increased risk of reprisals against US and Western targets for the US-led intervention against ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq.

The publication Charlie Hebdo had long drawn threats for its depictions of Islam, although it also lampooned other religions and political figures. Charlie Hebdo plans a special edition next week, produced in the offices of another paper.