January 12, 2015 / 10:44 AM / 3 years ago

France mobilizes 10,000 troops at home after Paris shootings

A French soldier secures the access to a Jewish school in Paris as part of the highest level of "Vigipirate" security plan after last week's terrorist attacks January 12, 2015.Gonzalo Fuentes

PARIS (Reuters) - France will deploy 10,000 soldiers on home soil by Tuesday and post almost 5,000 extra police officers to protect Jewish sites after the killing of 17 people by Islamist militants in Paris last week, officials said.

Speaking a day after the biggest French public demonstration ever recorded, in honor of the victims, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the country remained at risk of further attacks. Soldiers would guard transport hubs, tourism sites and key buildings and mount general street patrols.

"The threats remain and we have to protect ourselves from them. It is an internal operation that will mobilize almost as many men as we have in our overseas operations," Le Drian told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

The victims, including journalists and police, died in three days of violence that began on Wednesday with an attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, known for mocking Islam and other religions. Many at Sunday's march wore badges and carried placards declaring "Je suis Charlie" ("I Am Charlie").

The Charlie Hebdo gunmen, two French-born brothers of Algerian origin, singled out the weekly for its publication of cartoons depicting and ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad.

Charlie Hebdo's remaining members are working on an eight-page issue due to come out on Wednesday with a one-million copy print run. Its lawyer, Richard Malka, told France Info radio there would be caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad.

"We will not give in. The spirit of 'I am Charlie' means the right to blaspheme," he said, adding that the front page would be released on Monday evening.

The three days of bloodshed ended on Friday with a siege at a Jewish deli in Paris where four hostages and another gunman were killed. That gunman declared allegiance to Islamic State and said he was acting in response to French military deployments against militant Islamist groups overseas.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 4,700 police officers would be placed at all 717 Jewish schools across the country in addition to some 4,100 gendarmes already deployed.

"Synagogues, Jewish schools, but also mosques will be protected because in the past few days there have been a number of attacks against mosques," Prime Minister Manuel Valls told BFM TV.

France has the European Union's largest Muslim and Jewish communities.

The first two attackers, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi who traveled to Yemen in 2011 for training, were killed on Friday after a siege northeast of the capital. Police said all three men were part of the same Paris-based Islamist cell.

The French Justice Ministry said Cherif Kouachi had made the journey to Yemen even though he had been banned from leaving France at the time.

Kouachi was detained from May to October 2010 on suspicion of being part of a group that tried to help Smain Ali Belkacem, author of a 1995 attack on the Paris transport system that killed eight people and wounded 120, to break out of prison.

On his release, Kouachi was placed under judicial control, which forbade him from leaving France, Justice Ministry spokesman Pierre Rance said. The case against Kouachi was eventually dropped.

SEARCH FOR ACCOMPLICES

About 1.5 million people marched in Paris on Sunday and 2.5 million more in the provinces. The Paris march was led by President Francois Hollande and dozens of foreign leaders. Some commentators said the last time crowds of this size were seen in the capital was at the Liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany in 1944.

The co-ordinated assaults amounted to the deadliest attack by militant Islamists on a European city since four suicide bombers killed 52 in attacks on London's transport system in 2005.

Valls said police were searching for likely accomplices of the French cell. The Turkish government confirmed that the female companion of the supermarket attacker had entered Syria on Jan. 8 from Turkey, having arrived in Istanbul several days before the killings.

Bulgaria also plans to extradite a Frenchman suspected of knowing or having been in touch with one of the Kouachi brothers, prosecutors said. Police arrested the man, Fritz-Joly Joachin, 29, on Jan. 1 at a border checkpoint when he tried to cross into Turkey.

After an emergency cabinet meeting on Monday to outline Britain's response to the attacks, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to give security and intelligence services new powers to monitor Internet communications.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Cameron were among 44 foreign leaders marching with Hollande on Sunday. U.S. President Barack Obama did not attend, and a White House spokesman acknowledged on Monday that Washington should have sent "someone with a higher profile".

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan lambasted Western nations for their stance on the attacks while failing to condemn anti-Muslim acts in Europe. "The West's hypocrisy is obvious," said Erdogan, who missed the march. "Please, the administrations in those countries where our mosques are attacked need to take measures."

Erdogan also denounced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for attending the rally.

Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walked just a few steps from one another on Sunday.

The Israeli leader visited the Jewish supermarket, scene of the hostage taking, on Monday with about 300 people singing the French and Israeli national anthems.

His invitation to French Jews to migrate to Israel if they wanted irritated some. Valls scrambled to reassure the community it was safe and an integral part of France.

"It was essential he came to show that he was with us French, Jews of France," said Mauricette Abouchaya. "(But) we're in France, we want to stay in France. It is our country."

Additional reporting by Chine Labbe, Tom Heneghan, Pauline Mevel, Tsvetelia Tsolova, Doina Chiacu, Jeff Mason, Ece Toksabay and Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by John Irish and Andrew Callus; Editing by Ralph Boulton and David Stamp

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