France on Sunday was preparing for a massive anti-terrorism rally and march in a demonstration of unity after this week’s terror attacks in Paris, and to show the world that it would not be cowed by acts of barbarism and violence.
Police were still searching for a fourth suspect in the attacks that killed 17 people over three days and 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.
World leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s David Cameron are among those expected to attend Sunday’s march. Security forces are deployed around the capital, guarding places of worship and tourist sites in anticipation for what is expected to be a huge march.
The march will begin at the Place de la Republique. Snipers on rooftops, some 2,000 police and 1,350 army, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuv said.
“These attacks were attacks on freedom,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Saturday. “They were attacks on the shield of the republic … These were attacks on tolerance.”
In New York, hundreds braved the old to rally in support of France Saturday. The crowd in Washington Square held signs proclaiming “Je Suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie” — a statement expressing solidarity with the 12 people slain at the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday. The al-Qaeda linked brothers who carried out that attack, Cherif and Said Kouachi, were killed by police in a village outside Paris Friday.
There were also solidarity marches across France Saturday morning. An estimated 25,000 marched along ‘La Promenade des Anglais’ in Nice; a reported 30,000 people marched in Pau, Pyrenee-Atlantique; and local media said 22,000 people marched in Orleans.
“We still need to rally and show that we will resist barbarism and fear,” Matthieu C., who lives down the street from the magazine’s offices, told NBC News.
The prime minister called Sunday’s march a “cry for freedom.” But a witness to the kosher market massacre said the country isn’t taking the Islamic extremist threat seriously enough.
“We’re a country at war,” said Daikh Ramdan, 28, manager of a nearby service station, told The Associated Press. “We haven’t understood.”