‘We Are Still Here’: Crowds and World Leaders Converge on Paris – NBCNews.com
PARIS — France was on high alert on Sunday as huge crowds and world leader poured into Paris to express their support for victims of last week’s attacks and signal their disgust for the perpetrators.
Crowds packed Paris’ Place de la Republique, chanting “Vive la France” and “Qui vous etes? Charlie!” — “Who are you? Charlie!” — in reference to the massacre at the satirical magazine that left 12 dead on Wednesday. The demonstrators clapped, chanted and held posters and flags, including the French and Israeli ones.
Restaurant worker Ashley Lenglet admitted that she was very afraid, but said showed up to express her sympathy for those slain in the attacks that have reverberated throughout France and around the world.
“I’m scared for what going to happen in France, for the future and for the future of my children,” said the 20-year-old in the Place de la Republique, where the rally was set to start at 3 p.m. (10 a.m. ET). “But we’ll fight and we are here to show the people who want to hurt that we are still here and we are in solidarity.”
Dozens of sniffer dogs checked those gathered, a sign of the heightened security in the wake of deadly attacks on the magazine that published satirical cartoons of Muslim Prophet Muhammad and a kosher supermarket. Nearly 125,000 people were attending rallies throughout the French capital, police told French broadcaster BFM.
The silent march reflects shock over the worst militant Islamist assault on a European city in nine years. For France, it raised questions of free speech, religion and security and beyond French frontiers it exposed the vulnerability of states to urban attacks.
More than 40 world leaders were descending on Paris too, with Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas among those due to attend the rally.
“Today we are all French citizens,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was among some 70 representatives of foreign countries to attend,
France is on the highest level of alert following the three days of violence that left 17 people dead, along with three gunmen. Security has been stepped up in France since the first deadly assault on Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday.
France’s interior minister said “exceptional measures” will be taken to ensure security for the rally, from sweeping rooftops and gutters to posting snipers on the rooftops of Paris.
Some 2,000 police and 1,350 soldiers were providing security for the march and at sensitive sites in the city, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuv said. There will be 150 plainclothes police protecting the public figures on hand and doing surveillance.
The rally “must show the power, the dignity of the French people who will be shouting out of love of freedom and tolerance,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said.
“Journalists were killed because they defended freedom. Policemen were killed because they were protecting you. Jews were killed because they were Jewish,” he said. “The indignation must be absolute and total — not for three days only, but permanently.”
Police were still searching for a fourth suspect in the attacks that horrified the world. Hayat Boumeddiene is described as the common-law wife of Amedy Coulibaly, who police believe killed a French policewoman Thursday and killed four hostages at a supermarket Friday before he was shot dead by police who stormed the grocery.
Police have said she is an accomplice in the killing of the policewoman, and she is believed to be armed.
But there were reports that Boumeddiene may be in Syria. French media reported that she already left France last week — taking a flight from Madrid to Syria via Turkey. Surveillance images “are certain” to be of Boumeddiene, reported French newspaper Le Figaro on Saturday, citing a police source. NBC News could not immediately verify those reports. The prosecutor’s office declined to comment on her whereabouts.
Phil Helsel, F. Brinley Bruton and Reuters contributed to this report.