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Monday, December 09, 2019

Hollande Vows France ‘Will Never Yield’ As Attack Victims Buried


Paris (AFP) – President Francois Hollande vowed Tuesday that France would “never yield” to terror in an emotional tribute to three police officers shot dead in an Islamist killing spree, as four Jews gunned down in the attacks were buried in Israel.

Equally defiant after the killing of most of its editorial team in last week’s attacks, the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine unveiled the cover of its latest edition showing a weeping Prophet Mohammed under the banner “All is forgiven”.

Egypt slammed the provocative cover which was republished across Europe, in Australia and Brazil, but French Muslim groups urged their communities to “stay calm and avoid emotive reactions” to the depiction of Mohammed, which many see as sacrilegious.

Home to Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities, France was shaken to the core by its bloodiest attacks in decades, which began when gunmen opened fire at the Charlie Hebdo editorial meeting in its Paris offices on Wednesday and ended in a bloody hostage drama at a Jewish supermarket two days later.

Seventeen people, including journalists, policemen, a black policewoman, Muslims and Jews lost their lives.

The supermarket killer, Amedy Coulibaly, and the Charlie Hebdo gunmen, Said and Cherif Kouachi, were killed in quick succession in two police blitzes on Friday.

In an historic show of solidarity, nearly four million people marched around the country on Sunday, and the outpouring of shock and grief continued Tuesday as several victims were buried.

In Paris, the Marseillaise anthem rang out under grey skies as a grim-faced Hollande laid the country’s highest decoration, the Legion d’honneur, on to the coffins of three fallen police officers draped in the red, white and blue flag.

“Our great and beautiful France will never break, will never yield, never bend” in the face of the Islamist threat that is “still there, inside and outside” the country, said Hollande, surrounded by weeping families and uniformed colleagues

Two policemen, Franck Brinsolaro, 49 and Muslim officer Ahmed Merabet, 40, were killed during the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

The third police officer Clarissa Jean-Philippe, 26, originally from the French Caribbean island of Martinique, was gunned down by Coulibaly the next day when she arrived at the scene of a car accident in which he was involved. Many believe he was on his way to a nearby Jewish school.

“They died so that we could live in freedom,” Hollande said at a solemn ceremony at the Paris police headquarters.

In Israel, thousands of mourners gathered at a cemetery for the funeral of Tunisian national Yoav Hattab, 22, and French citizens Philippe Braham, 45, Yohan Cohen, 23, and Francois-Michel Saada, 64, who were killed at the kosher supermarket.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told mourners that world leaders were “starting to understand” the threat of Islamic extremism.

Egypt’s state sponsored Islamic authority, the Dar al-Ifta, said the latest cover of Charlie Hebdo was “an unjustified provocation against the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims.”

The controversial weekly, which lampoons anyone from the pope to the president, has become the symbol of freedom of expression in the wake of the bloodshed. This week it is preparing a print run of three million copies, compared to its usual 60,000.

To ease fears in a nation still jittery after its worst attacks in half a century, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that some 10,000 troops will be deployed to protect sensitive sites.

He said the unprecedented deployment on home soil was being handled like “a military operation”.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls will on Tuesday address parliament on the country’s response to the terror threat, as attention turns to security failings that allowed men known to anti-terror police to slip through the cracks.

Valls has admitted there were “clear failings” after it emerged that the Kouachi brothers had been known to French intelligence agents and been on a U.S. terror watch list “for years”.

The brothers carried out the Charlie Hebdo attack before leading security forces on a massive manhunt that climaxed at a small printing business outside Paris where they took the manager hostage.

Police gunned them down after they ran out of the building spraying bullets in a final act of defiance.

Coulibaly, who on Friday took hostages at the kosher supermarket, killing four before being shot down in a dramatic police assault, claimed he had coordinated his acts with the brothers.

The repeat criminal offender had also been convicted for extremist activity and swore allegiance to the Islamic State group.

As investigators hunted for those who may have assisted the killers, images of Coulibaly’s wanted partner Hayat Boumeddiene emerged at Istanbul airport accompanied by an unidentified man. She is believed to have entered Turkey before the attacks and went on to Syria.

“We think there are in fact probably accomplices,” Valls told French radio. “The hunt will go on.”

In Bulgaria it emerged a Frenchman arrested on January 1 trying to cross into Turkey was in contact with Cherif Kouachi.

France has been on high alert for several months over its citizens who go to fight alongside Islamic State jihadists in Iraq and Syria, some of whom have been pictured in grisly execution videos.

Valls also said 1,400 people were known to have left to fight in Syria and Iraq, or were planning to do so. Seventy French citizens have died there.

The IS group has issued direct threats against France which is carrying out air strikes against them in Iraq as part of a U.S.-led coalition.

AFP Photo/ Patrick Kovarik


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