2 girls held on suspicion of plotting French attack

Nice – A judicial source said on Saturday that two teenage girls were arrested in southern France on suspicion of plotting a terror attack.

The pair, aged 14 and 15, were taken in for questioning by the anti-terrorism prosecution service after a search of both girls’ homes turned up evidence suggesting they could have been planning an attack, the source said.

“At this stage we do not know how far advanced the preparations were,” the  source said, adding that no weapons had been found.

Several girls have been among a swathe of teenagers arrested in recent anti-terror swoops in France on suspicion either of plotting attacks or having contact with Islamic State members or sympathisers.

The country remains in a state of emergency after suffering a spate of deadly jihadist attacks over the past two years.

Three teenage girls were arrested in late February on suspicion they had chatted on Telegram, an encrypted instant messaging platform used by French jihadi Rachid Kassim to call for attacks on France.

An anti-terrorism judge in Paris charged the trio last month.

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Nicolas Sarkozy to face trial over 2012 campaign financing

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is to face trial over the allegedly fraudulent financing of his doomed 2012 bid for re-election, a legal source has said.
The prosecution claims Sarkozy greatly exceeded a spending limit of €22.5m by using false billing from a public relations firm called Bygmalion.
The source said one of two judges in charge of the case, Serge Tournaire, had decided on 3 February that the case should go to trial after the failure of Sarkozy’s legal efforts to prevent it in December.
Bygmalion allegedly charged €18.5m to Sarkozy’s rightwing party – which at the time was called the UMP, but has since been renamed the Republicans – instead of billing the president’s campaign.
Executives from the company have acknowledged the existence of fraud and false accounting and the trial will focus on whether Sarkozy himself was aware or taking decisions about it.
Only one other president – Jacques Chirac – has been tried in France’s fifth republic, which was founded in 1958. He was give a two-year suspended jail term in 2011 over a fake job scandal.
Questioned by police in September 2015, Sarkozy said he did not recall ever being warned about the accounting and described the controversy as a “farce”, putting the responsibility squarely on Bygmalion and the UMP.
While the Bygmalion case is the most pressing, 61-year-old Sarkozy has been fighting legal problems on several fronts since losing the 2012 election to President François Hollande.
After retiring from politics following that defeat, he returned to take the helm of the Republicans and sought the nomination to run for president in this year’s two-stage election in April and May.
In a surprise result, he was eliminated in November in the first round of a primary contest, trailing the eventual winner François Fillon and former prime minister Alain Juppé.

Knife attack puts France on edge

France will remain on its highest level of alert, a government spokesperson said on Wednesday, one day after a man with a knife attacked soldiers guarding a Jewish community centre in the city of Nice.

Two soldiers were lightly injured in the attack and the alleged attacker was arrested along with an accomplice. France has been on the highest alert level since terrorist attacks in Paris last month left 20 people dead.

President Francois Hollande called for an extension of the high alert level during a regular cabinet meeting, spokesperson Stephane Le Foll said.

France has deployed more than 10 000 troops to guard sites deemed to be sensitive, including mosques and synagogues, and authorities have unveiled measures to curtail ideological radicalisation, including at schools.

The three gunmen who carried out the attacks in January were all French, and they claimed allegiance to international terrorist networks in Yemen and Syria.

French Muslim groups call for calm

French Muslim groups called for calm and respect for freedom of opinion on Tuesday ahead of the release of the new issue of Charlie Hebdo magazine which features a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

The French Council of the Muslim Religion and the Union of French Islamic Organisations released a joint statement calling for the Muslim community to “stay calm and avoid emotive reactions that are incompatible with its dignity … while respecting freedom of opinion.”

The new issue of Charlie Hebdo is to be published on Wednesday, a week after two jihadist gunmen stormed the Paris offices of the satirical magazine, killing 12 people.

Its cover features the prophet with a tear in his eye, holding a “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) under the headline “All is forgiven”.

Depictions of Mohammed are seen by many Muslims as sacrilegious and Charlie Hebdo became a target for extremists after repeatedly printing cartoons of the prophet.

Some people have said that, while they support free speech, they are “not Charlie” because they feel the magazine stigmatises Muslims.

The Arab World Institute in Paris has, however, come out in full support of the solidarity campaign.

Giant red letters proclaiming “We are all Charlie” in Arabic and French have been hung on the façade of the cultural institute, which was co-founded by France and 18 Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen.

Defiant Charlie Hebdo fronts Prophet Muhammad

Paris – A defiant Charlie Hebdo cover of a crying Prophet Muhammad above the slogan “All is Forgiven” was reproduced by media around the world on Tuesday but was seen by many Muslims as an unnecessary provocation.

The front page of the French satirical newspaper – its first since many of its staff were slain in a jihadi attack last week that killed 12 people – was widely taken up by media in Western nations and in Latin America.

It shows Muhammad on a green background under the ambiguous title “All is forgiven”.

But major media in many Arab and some African and Asian countries, as well as Turkey, did not show it due to Muslim sensitivity to portraying Mohammad.

Egypt’s Islamic authority denounced the Charlie Hebdo cover. Violent riots broke out there in early 2006 over Mohammad caricatures first printed by a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, and later republished by Charlie Hebdo.

“This action is an unjustified provocation against the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims,” the authority, Dar al-Ifta, said.

Many devout Muslims view any depiction of their prophet as forbidden and Charlie Hebdo’s past caricatures of Muhammad as inflammatory insults.

Because of huge demand for the special “survivors’ issue” of Charlie Hebdo, some three million copies are to be printed – far more than the usual 60 000 before the attack brought the weekly to worldwide prominence – and it will be translated into 16 languages.

The issue will include cartoons by its murdered cartoonists.

An advance copy obtained by AFP contained cartoons mocking the two Islamist gunmen who carried out the attack. One has them arriving in paradise and asking, “Where are the 70 virgins?”

“With the Charlie team, losers,” comes the reply.

The remaining Charlie Hebdo staff who put the issue together said they wanted Muhammad on the cover to show they would not “cede” to extremists wanting to silence them.

The fact that many non-European outlets did not reproduce the front page cartoon revealed unease about the magazine being elevated to a global champion for freedom of expression.

The French publication earned broad sympathy after the bloody attack, but some expressed reservations – or stronger – about the role now attributed to it.

Prophet ‘insulted’

One of the fiercest criticisms of the Muhammad front page came from within Iran, an Islamic republic notorious for throwing many journalists in jail.

“Charlie Hebdo has again insulted the Prophet,” the conservative news website Tabnak asserted, next to a blurred image of the cover.

Major Arab broadcasters Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera did not show the cover in their reports.

Leaked internal e-mails from Qatar-based Al-Jazeera have revealed a debate between its Arabic- and English-language employees about whether Charlie Hebdo and the “Je Suis Charlie” slogan should symbolise free speech.

Most French media outlets, including newspapers Le Monde, Liberation, Le Figaro and TV networks including TF1, published images of the Charlie Hebdo cover.

The rector of Paris’s mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, urged France’s Muslims “to remain calm” over the cover “by avoiding emotional reactions… and respecting freedom of opinion”.

The head of a big mosque in central eastern Paris, Hammad Hammami, voiced a similar stand. “We don’t want to throw oil on the fire,” he said. “We consider these caricatures to be acceptable. They are not degrading for the Prophet,” unlike previous Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

UK, US media cautious

The cover was widely reproduced across Europe. Some Western outlets, though, showed more caution in reproducing the cover. In Denmark, for instance, the Jyllands-Posten newspaper that triggered 2006 riots with its Muhammad cartoons did not reproduce the Charlie Hebdo cover.

Britain’s The Independent newspaper was the only of the major dailies in London to put the image in its print version. The Telegraph’s website cropped the cover to cut out Muhammad.

The Guardian newspaper’s website included it with its report, but warned: “This article contains the image of the magazine cover, which some may find offensive.”

A British radical preacher, Anjem Choudary, who is under investigation for militancy, branded the new publication an “act of war” and a “blatant provocation”.

Almost none of the newspapers in Italy and in Russia carried the cover image.

Many US news media showed prudence. The New York Times website reported on the Muhammad cover but providing readers only with a link to the site of the French newspaper Liberation. Major television networks also did not reproduce the cover.

The Wall Street Journal, though, did, and so did tabloids like the New York Daily News.

According to the French press distribution company MLP, the new Charlie Hebdo issue will be available in many countries that previously never received the weekly, including Australia – where strong demand was reported – and in India, where there are around 170 million Muslims.

France pays homage to 3 killed policemen

Paris – President Francois Hollande vowed on Tuesday that France would “never yield” to terror in an emotional tribute to three police officers shot dead in an Islamist killing spree.

The Marseillaise anthem rang out under grey skies as a grim-faced Hollande pinned the country’s highest decoration, the Legion d’honneur, onto coffins draped in the red, white and blue flag, surrounded by weeping families and uniformed colleagues.

“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.

The country has been shaken to its core by the bloodshed that began with a jihadist assault on the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine on Wednesday and ended in a bloody hostage drama at a Jewish supermarket two days later.

Seventeen people, including journalists, policemen, a black police woman, Muslims and Jews lost their lives in the attacks.

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.

Refusing to be cowed by the attack that decimated its editorial team, Charlie Hebdo prepared a cover for its next edition on Wednesday showing a weeping Prophet Muhammad holding a sign with the now-famous phrase “Je suis Charlie” under the banner “All is forgiven”.

It is the kind of goading content that has long drawn the ire of some Muslims because of the depiction of Muhammad, which many see as sacrilegious.

Muslim leaders urge calm

French Muslim groups urged their communities to “stay calm and avoid emotive reactions” to the new Charlie Hebdo cover, while respecting freedom of opinion.

In Israel, thousands of mourners gathered at a cemetery for the funeral of Yoav Hattab, 22, 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 that this terror committed by extremist Islam represents a clear and present threat to peace in the world in which we live”.

During their attack on the magazine, which also lampoons other religions, the gunmen proclaimed they were “avenging the Prophet”.

Charlie Hebdo, which has become the symbol of freedom of expression in the wake of the bloodshed, was preparing a massive print run of three million copies, compared to its usual 60 000.

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 on the scene of a car accident he was involved in the southern suburb of Montrouge. Many believe he was on his way to a Jewish school down the road.

“That woman saved our children,” said one parent.

At the Paris police headquarters pallbearers marched slowly through the square to the strains of a funeral march past a huge Tricolore flag fluttering lightly in the breeze.

“They died so that we could live in freedom,” Hollande said of the police officers.

‘A military operation’

France has Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish populations and the attacks prompted a historic outpouring of unity and saw nearly four million people rally across the country on Sunday.

Some 1.5 million came out onto the streets of Paris alone, but the nation remains jittery after its worst attacks in half a century and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced some 10 000 troops will be deployed to protect sensitive sites.

He said the deployment, in addition to another 5 000 police officers on the streets, was being handled like “a military operation”.

“This is the first time that our troops have been mobilised to such an extent on our own soil,” he said.

With tensions still high, Muslim community leaders have reported more than 50 incidents since the Charlie Hebdo assault, including apparent arson at a mosque in the city of Poitiers on Sunday.

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.

Security failings

Valls has admitted there were “clear failings” after it emerged that the Kouachi brothers had been on a US terror watch list “for years”.

Said Kouachi, 34, was known to have travelled to Yemen in 2011, where he received weapons training from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And 32-year-old Cherif was a known jihadist convicted in 2008 for involvement in a network sending fighters from France to Iraq.

The brothers carried out the Charlie Hebdo attack before leading security forces on a massive manhunt that ended 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 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.

Hunt goes on

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 1 January 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 US-led coalition.

West facing ‘payback’ for colonialism – China paper

Beijing – The religious and cultural tensions the West faces are “payback” for slavery and colonialism, a Chinese state-run newspaper said on Tuesday in the wake of the Islamist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine.

The editorial in the Global Times newspaper – which often takes a nationalistic tone – dismissed the weekend’s huge marches in Paris and elsewhere as “painkillers” that cannot halt the intensifying “clash of civilisations”.

The article comes amid a global show of support for the satirical French weekly, whose Paris office last week was stormed by Islamist gunmen in an attack that left 12 people dead.

“Voices say that what Western developed societies have gone through is payback as it is their historical acts of slavery and colonialism which led to their current demographic structures,” the newspaper, which is close to China’s ruling Communist Party, said.

“The immigrant issue has bred ultra-extremist right-wingers in Europe, making conflicts largely insolvable,” it continued.

Difficult position

About 1.5 million people took to the streets of Paris on Sunday to mourn the victims of the magazine attack and support free speech, including several world leaders.

But the Global Times contended that the rallies “can hardly produce significant results”.

“Despite its impressive scale, the vast solidarity march in Paris on Sunday looked like feeding a seriously ailing person with painkillers,” the paper wrote.

“When calm is restored, if the magazine holds on to its stance on Islam, it will put the French government in a difficult position and it will become a symbol of a clash of civilisations in Europe,” it continued.

Beijing strictly controls its own domestic media and has recently launched one of its biggest campaigns to silence critics in years, detaining and jailing dozens of human rights activists, lawyers, academics and journalists.

China has also been engaged in a heavy handed crackdown on unrest in the far-western, mainly Muslim, Xinjiang region which has been the scene of bloody clashes that authorities classify as religiously-inspired terrorism.

In the days since the Paris attack, Beijing has both condemned terrorism and argued that Charlie Hebdo’s provocative cartoons were an invitation to violence.

In a commentary on Monday, the official Xinhua news agency said that the incidents in Paris “should not be simplified as attacks on press freedom, for even the freedom itself has its limits, which does not include insulting, sneering or taunting other people’s religion or beliefs”.

“It is high time for the Western world to review the root causes of terrorism, as well as the limitation of press freedom, to avoid more violence in the future,” Xinhua said.

Islamic State must be wiped out – French minister

Islamic State fighters must be wiped out, France’s defence minister said on Tuesday, indicating that Paris would not pull back from military operations overseas after 17 people were killed by home-grown militants in the capital last week.

After the United States, France has the largest number of planes and troops involved in the coalition fighting Islamic State, which last year took control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

It also has about 3 500 troops and special forces operating in the Sahel-Sahara region hunting down al-Qaeda-linked militants.

France intervened in Mali to oust Islamist militants from its former colony in January 2013 and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian noted that two years later French forces were now fighting the “same threat” on home soil.

“It is the same enemy. Our forces are on the ground here because… for our troops it’s the same fight,” Le Drian told Europe 1 radio, referring to the 10 000 soldiers being deployed across France to secure key sites following last week’s attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo by Islamist gunmen.

Parliament will vote later on Tuesday on whether to extend France’s military mission in Iraq, four months after its launch.

No calls to withdraw

In a posthumous video, one of last week’s killers cited France’s operations abroad as one reason for his actions, but there have been no major calls in France for its troops to withdraw from operations against Islamic militants.

“The response is inside and outside France. Islamic State is a terrorist army with fighters from everywhere… it is an international army that has to be wiped out and that is why we are part of the coalition,” Le Drian said.

More than 1 120 French citizens are involved in jihadi cells linked to Iraq and Syria, of which about 400 are in the region.

The suspected female accomplice of one of the gunmen who attacked a Jewish supermarket last week fled to Syria ahead of the killings, Turkish officials said on Monday.

France has 800 military personnel, nine fighter jets, a maritime patrol aircraft and a refuelling plane at its base in the United Arab Emirates as part of its “Chammal” Iraq mission, as well as an anti-aircraft warship in the Gulf. It also operates six Mirage fighter jets from Jordan.

It is due to send its aircraft carrier to the Indian Ocean on Wednesday and Le Drian said in December Paris would send 120 military advisers to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

However, it has ruled out striking the Islamic State in Syria, where it provides equipment and training to “moderate” forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad. There was no indication of a change in that stance on Tuesday.

Frenchman held in Bulgaria had ‘links’ to Paris attackers

A Frenchman arrested in Bulgaria on 1 January trying to cross into Turkey was in contact with one of the two brothers who carried out the Islamist attacks in Paris last week, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Fritz-Joly Joachin, aged 29, a French citizen of Haitian origin, “was in contact several times with one of the two brothers -Cherif Kouachi”, public prosecutor Darina Slavova told GNR.

She said the contact took place before Joachin left France on 30 December, a week before Cherif Kouachi and his brother Said killed 12 people in Paris attacks that shocked the world.

Joachin was initially wanted on a European arrest warrant issued by France following allegations by his wife that he had kidnapped their 3-year-old son.

But on Monday, Bulgarian prosecutors received a second European arrest warrant for Joachin issued by a court in Paris.

“The charges are for participation in an organised crime group whose aim was organisation of terrorist acts,” said Slavova.

The Kouachi brothers carried out their massacre at the Paris offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on 7 January. Two days later they were shot dead by French security forces.

Paris attacks: France seeks security answers

France turns its attention on Monday to plugging security holes blamed for failing to prevent the deadliest terrorist attack on the country in half a century, after millions united in historic rallies.

In the biggest show of solidarity, in Paris, more than a million people mourned the victims of three days of terror that began with a massacre at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, and ended with 17 people dead.

President Francois Hollande will chair a crisis meeting with cabinet ministers on Monday to discuss security measures after the shootings raised questions about how the attackers slipped through the intelligence services’ net.

All three gunmen – brothers Said, 34, and Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Amedy Coulibaly, 32 – had a history of extremism and were known to French intelligence.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has admitted there were “clear failings” after it emerged that the Kouachi brothers had been on a US terror watch list “for years”.

Said was known to have travelled to Yemen in 2011, where he received weapons training from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, while Cherif was a known jihadist who was convicted in 2008 for involvement in a network sending fighters to Iraq.

Coulibaly was a repeat criminal offender who had been convicted for extremist Islamist activity.

All three were shot dead by security forces on Friday after a reign of terror that targeted Charlie Hebdo magazine, a kosher supermarket and police.

‘Not afraid’

Hollande has warned his traumatised nation to keep up its guard in the face of possible new assaults.

On Sunday he led more than a million people on the march in Paris in tribute to the victims of the attacks as the crowd cried “Not afraid”.

The interior ministry said nearly four million people took to the streets across the country in the biggest rallies in France’s history, with some estimates putting the number in Paris alone at 1.6 million.

At the head of the vast and colourful procession in the capital, Hollande linked arms with world leaders including the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president, in an historic display of unity.

The vast crowd chanted “Charlie, Charlie”, in honour of the cartoonists and journalists killed at Charlie Hebdo over its lampooning of the Prophet Mohammed.

The crowd brandished banners saying “I’m French and I’m not scared” and, in tribute to the murdered cartoonists, “Make fun, not war” and “Ink should flow, not blood”.

Emotions ran high in the grieving City of Light, with many people in tears as they came together under the banner of freedom of speech.

Isabelle Dahmani, a French Christian married to a Muslim, Mohamed, brought the couple’s three young children to show them there was nothing to fear.

Firm position  

Their nine-year-old daughter had burst into tears as she watched TV pictures of the attack on the magazine’s offices, Isabelle said, recalling she had asked if “the bad men are coming to our house?”

The victims’ mourning families played a prominent role in the march, alongside representatives from around 50 countries.

In an emotional scene, Charlie Hebdo columnist Patrick Pelloux fell sobbing into the arms of Hollande.

With so many world leaders present, security in the still jittery capital was tight, with police snipers stationed on rooftops and plain-clothes officers among the crowd.

“Today, Paris is the capital of the world,” Hollande said. “The entire country will rise up.”

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out in other French cities including Bordeaux and Lyon, and marches were held in Berlin, Brussels, Istanbul and Madrid as well as in US and Canadian cities.

The crowd in Paris was also mourning four Jews killed when Coulibaly stormed a kosher supermarket, after he had earlier gunned down a policewoman.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined Hollande at the main synagogue in Paris after the march to honour the Jewish victims, and praised the “very firm position” taken by French leaders against what he called “the new anti-Semitism and terrorism” in France.

‘We will win’

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who also marched, predicted Europe would face the threat of extremism “for many years to come”, but his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi pledged the continent “will win the challenge against terrorism”.

Earlier Renzi had tweeted using the hashtag #jesuischarlie (I am Charlie), which has been used more than five million times.

Ahead of the rally, interior and security ministers from the European Union and the United States held emergency talks to discuss Islamic extremism.

They urged a strengthening of the EU external borders to limit the movement of extremists between Europe and the Middle East, and said there was an “urgent need” to share air passenger information.

France’s three days of terror started when the Kouachi brothers burst into Charlie Hebdo’s offices in central Paris and sprayed bullets into an editorial meeting, killing some of France’s best-known cartoonists.

They then killed a Muslim policeman as he lay helpless on the ground, and a day later Coulibaly shot dead a policewoman in a Paris suburb.

All three gunmen were shot dead Friday after twin hostage dramas at a printing firm and at the kosher supermarket.

Investigators have been trying to hunt down Coulibaly’s partner, 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, but a security source in Turkey told AFP she arrived there on 2 January, before the attacks, and has probably travelled on to Syria.

Coulibaly’s mother and sisters condemned his actions, saying “we hope there will not be any confusion between these odious acts and the Muslim religion”.

Video shows gunman pledging allegiance to ISIS: Paris attacks

Paris – Two days after his death, a video emerged on Sunday of one of the Paris gunmen pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, while his two fellow militants have claimed to be from rival group al-Qaeda.

That seeming contradiction has raised questions about the connections among the three French attackers, whether they acted with the direct involvement or knowledge of the networks, and whether their friendship allowed them to put aside the rift between the groups.

ISIS does not co-operate with al-Qaeda’s militants and actually fights them for territory in a side conflict of Syria’s civil war.

Watch The Video Of Paris Gunman Amedy Coulibaly

In video verified by the Site Intelligence Group, Amedy Coulibaly said he had worked in coordination with Said and Cherif Kouachi, the “brothers from our team”, who carried out the massacre at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday.

“We did things a bit together and a bit apart, so that it’d have more impact,” he said in fluent French, adding that he had helped the brothers financially with “a few thousand Euros” for the operation. The video also showed him doing pushups, and featured automatic rifles, pistols and ammunition. He spoke beneath the black-and-white flag used by many Islamic militants.

Coulibaly explained why the publication and his target – the kosher supermarket – were selected.

“What we are doing is completely legitimate, given what they are doing,” he said.

The video appeared on Sunday on militant websites, and two men who dealt drugs with Coulibaly confirmed his identify to The Associated Press. Police said they were investigating the conditions under which the video was posted.

Paris supermarket

Prosecutors said Coulibaly killed four hostages Friday in the supermarket, killed a police officer, and shot and wounded a jogger. He died when police stormed the market, just minutes after security forces killed the Kouachi brothers.

Survivors say the Charlie Hebdo attackers claimed they were from al-Qaeda in Yemen, the group the US considers the most dangerous offshoot of that network.

But experts cast doubt over whether the attacks could have been coordinated by the rival groups. While Cherif Kouachi was convicted on terrorism charges in 2008, and his brother Said is believed to have trained and fought with al-Qaeda forces while in Yemen, no evidence to date has emerged as to whether Coulibaly even went to Syria or Iraq, where IS holds territory. His widow was last traced to a town on the Turkey-Syria border a few days before the Paris attacks unfolded.

Since ISIS broke with al-Qaeda last year, militants from the two groups have been locked in a bloody struggle in Iraq and Syria, where ISIS claims leadership of a universal caliphate of all Muslims and leadership of global jihad. The two groups have fought each other in battles that have left hundreds dead on both sides.

“It would be a massive surprise,” said Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London. “The idea that [the two groups] would consciously collaborate on operations abroad seems far-fetched.”

“If anything, the most likely scenario is that there was some sort of playing off each other. Maybe – if there was synchronizing – it happened at the grassroots level,” he said. Coulibaly’s attack was far less professional, and appeared to be more spontaneous.

“He seems to be the prototype of the young, disengaged French Muslim who suffers from this sense of alienation, and then comes [to support an] ideology that makes him feel important, clear-cut and gives him purpose and orientation.”

Ties surpass rivalry

Timothy Holman, a researcher at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, said the attackers represented who they wish to be perceived as representing, and had personal ties that likely surpassed the rivalries between the core extremist leadership abroad.

The Kouachis’ link to Yemen also existed before the rift between ISIS and al-Qaeda.

The friendship among the gunmen “predates their militant engagement, and they are fighting as much for each other in some ways as the groups”, Holman said.

“In my opinion, their loyalty is first to their friends and family in the jihadist environment and then to the group. If Coulibaly’s primary loyalty was to [ISIS], it is unlikely he would have acted at the same time as the Kouachi brothers,” he added.

French police and judicial officials said they believed that while Coulibaly was committed to carrying out an attack, he was less of a strict ideologue or well-honed fighter than were the Kouachis – and could have found inspiration from either al-Qaeda or ISIS.

In their internationally aimed propaganda magazines, both extremist groups promote the idea that overseas attacks need not have organizational links to the main leadership, and that “mujahedeen”, or holy warriors, should take matters into their own hands.

Thousands join

Thousands of young people from Western Europe have headed to the war zones in Syria and Iraq to join extremists. Lawyers and family members of some of those who have gone say many have only a hazy sense of who will meet them when they arrive. But security officials fear that they will return home with new training in warfare, nursing old grievances.

While a member of al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen said anonymously on Friday that the group had directed the Charlie Hebdo attack, the group has not issued an official statement on the matter. Its senior cleric praised the operation but also stopped short of claiming responsibility directly.

Regardless, even if the al-Qaeda group did not know about the attacks in advance, jihadi fighters in the Middle East have a natural interest to claim such violence and present a unified front to adversaries – even if it sometimes goes against local positioning.

SITE reported late on Sunday that Moktar Belmoktar, the head of the Mourabitoune group that split from al-Qaeda’s north Africa wing, had expressed praise in online jihadi forums for the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Aymenn al-Tamimi, a Britain-based expert on militant groups in Iraq and Syria, suggested the claims of loyalty to the rival jihadi groups aimed to stir up fears of militants uniting to fight the West.

Al-Qaeda in Yemen may reject the Islamic State’s declared caliphate, he said, “but they have stressed the necessity of supporting each other against the common enemy – which is, of course, the West”.

Perhaps, al-Tamimi said, it was “to play on a bigger fear that the West has: that al-Qaeda and the ISIS would come together for an attack”, he added.

US ‘hypocrites’ slammed for not publishing Muhammad cartoon

The American creator of Maus, a graphic novel about the Holocaust, has denounced the “hypocrisy” of US media for refusing to republish the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly targeted in an Islamist attack last week.

Art Spiegelman said he “admires” Charlie Hebdo and thought the satirical magazine fulfilled its “mission” in 2006 by publishing a controversial caricature of Muhammad.

“I think it’s so hypocritical to drape yourself in freedom of speech and then self censor yourself to the point where you are not making your readers understand the issues,” Spiegelman told GNR during a visit to Beijing.

“That cartoon was not making fun of the prophet, it was excoriating the believers who would kill.”

While many media outlets republished several front-page cartoons in the wake of an attack that left 12 dead, among them some of Charlie Hebdo’s top cartoonists, some of the largest US newspapers, including the New York Times, refused for fear of offending readers.

“We have a standard that is long held and that serves us well: that there is a line between gratuitous insult and satire. Most of these are gratuitous insult,” Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, said according to a blog post written by the public editor Margaret Sullivan.

Spiegelman’s critically-acclaimed Maus depicts his Jewish father’s experience during the Holocaust, casting Jews as the mice of the title and Nazis as cats, and is the only comic book to have won a Pulitzer Prize.

Mocking what he called the “mega-fanatic zeal to be polite” in the American press, Spiegelman said that Charlie Hebdo had not sought to hurt Muslims by publishing cartoons of Muhammad, pointing out that the paper printed caricatures of the Pope and orthodox Jews as well.

“When religion overlaps with social and political issues, it’s necessary to fight back, so Charlie is equally hard on Jews including anti-Semitic caricatures and quotes when talking about Israel,” he said.

“The equal opportunity insult that came with Charlie Hebdo was the reason it’s estimable.”

At least 3.7 million march across France in record mobilisation

Paris – More than a million people thronged the streets of Paris on Sunday in the biggest rally in French history, led by dozens of world leaders walking arm-in-arm as cries of “Freedom” and “Charlie” rang out across the country.

The interior ministry said 3.7 million people took to the streets nationwide, with Paris alone seeing an “unprecedented” 1.5 million demonstrators.

In the capital, President Francois Hollande linked arms with world leaders, including the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president, in an historic display of unity.

A sea of humanity flowed through Paris’ iconic streets to mourn the victims of the three days of terror that began with a slaughter at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and ended with 17 dead.

The vast crowd chanted “Charlie, Charlie”, in honour of the cartoonists and journalists killed at Charlie Hebdo over its lampooning of the Prophet Muhammad. 

Emotions ran high in the grieving City of Light, with many of those marching in tears as they came together under the banner of freedom of speech after France’s worst terrorist bloodbath in half a century.

The crowd brandished banners saying: “I’m French and I’m not scared” and, in tribute to the murdered cartoonists, “Make fun, not war” and “Ink should flow, not blood.”

Isabelle Dahmani, a French Christian married to a Muslim, Mohamed, brought the couple’s three young children to show them there is nothing to fear.

Their 9-year-old daughter had burst into tears watching TV pictures of heavily armed brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi attacking the magazine’s offices, Isabelle said, recalling she had asked if “the bad men are coming to our house?”

The mourning families of those who died in the shootings led the march, alongside the representatives of around 50 countries.

Patrick Pelloux, a Charlie Hebdo columnist, fell sobbing into the arms of Hollande in an emotional embrace.

With dozens of world leaders present, security in the jittery French capital was beefed up, with police snipers stationed on rooftops and plain-clothes officers among the crowd in a city still reeling from the Islamist attacks.

“Today, Paris is the capital of the world,” Hollande said. “The entire country will rise up.”

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out in other French cities and marches were held in several European capitals, including Berlin, Brussels and Madrid.

The crowd in Paris was also mourning four Jews killed when an Islamist gunman stormed a kosher supermarket, after earlier gunning down a policewoman.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined Hollande at Paris’ main synagogue after the march to honour the victims.

‘We will win’

British Prime Minister David Cameron predicted Europe would face the threat of extremism “for many years to come”, but his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi pledged that Europe “will win the challenge against terrorism”.

Earlier Renzi had tweeted using the hashtag #jesuischarlie (I am Charlie), which has been used more than five million times.

Before the march, interior and security ministers met to discuss Islamic extremism.

They urged a strengthening of the EU external borders to limit the movement of extremists between Europe and the Middle East and said there was an “urgent need” to share air passenger information.

All three of the gunmen in the attacks had a history of extremism and were known previously to French intelligence.

Hollande has warned his traumatised country not to drop its guard in the face of possible new assaults.

He met representatives from the Jewish community who said authorities had agreed to deploy soldiers to protect Jewish schools and synagogues in France “if necessary.”

The rampage by the gunmen who claimed to be members of the al-Qaeda and Islamic State extremist groups was followed by a chilling new threat from the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that France faced more attacks.

Burials in Israel 

France’s three days of terror started Wednesday when the Kouachi brothers burst into Charlie Hebdo’s offices in central Paris and sprayed bullets into the editorial meeting, killing some of France’s best-known cartoonists.

They then slaughtered a Muslim policeman as he lay helpless on the ground before fleeing in a car, sparking a manhunt that lasted more than 48 hours.

A day later, a third gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, shot dead a policewoman in a Paris suburb.

In a video posted online on Sunday, a man who appeared to be Coulibaly said the gunmen had co-ordinated their efforts.

The massive hunt for the attackers culminated in twin hostage dramas that gripped the world.

Coulibaly stormed into a Jewish supermarket in eastern Paris and seized terrified shoppers.

The two brothers took one person hostage in a printing firm northeast of Paris. After a tense stand-off police shot them dead as they charged out of the building all guns blazing.

Moments later, security forces stormed the kosher supermarket in eastern Paris, killing Coulibaly but making the grisly discovery that four innocent Jews had died during the hostage-taking.

All four will be buried in Israel on Tuesday.

Investigators have been trying to hunt down Coulibaly’s partner, 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, but a security source in Turkey told AFP she arrived there on January 2, before the attacks, and has probably travelled on to Syria.

Clear failings

The attacks have raised mounting questions about how the gunmen could have slipped through the net of the intelligence services.

Coulibaly’s mother and sisters condemned his actions.

“We absolutely do not share these extreme ideas. We hope there will not be any confusion between these odious acts and the Muslim religion,” they said.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls admitted there had been “clear failings” in intelligence after it emerged that the brothers had been on a US terror watch list “for years”.

More than a million rally in Paris march of defiance

More than a million people flooded Paris on Sunday in an unprecedented rally against terrorism, led by dozens of world leaders walking arm in arm as cries of “Freedom” and “Charlie” rang out.

President Francois Hollande linked arms with world leaders, including the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president, in an historic display of unity.

A sea of humanity flowed through Paris’s iconic streets to mourn the victims of the three days of terror that began with the slaughter of 12 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

“Freedom! Freedom”, “Charlie! Charlie!” chanted the vast crowd, in honour of the cartoonists and journalists killed at Charlie Hebdo over its lampooning of the Prophet Muhammad. 

The crowd was also marking the death of four Jews killed when an Islamist gunman stormed a kosher supermarket and a policewoman gunned down in cold blood.

Emotions ran high in the grieving City of Light, with many of those marching bursting into tears as they came together under the banner of freedom of speech and liberty after France’s worst terrorist bloodbath in more than half a century.

The crowd brandished banners saying: “I’m French and I’m not scared” and, in tribute to the murdered cartoonists, “Make fun, not war” and “Ink should flow, not blood.”

The interior ministry said turnout for the Paris rally was “unprecedented” while French television said rallies across the nation were unseen since the 1944 Liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation.

Isabelle Dahmani, a French Christian married to a Muslim, Mohamed, brought their three young children to show them there is nothing to fear.

Their nine-year-old daughter burst into tears watching the news this week, Isabelle said, adding she had asked if “the bad men are coming to our house?”

The grieving families of those who died in the shootings led the march, alongside the representatives of around 50 countries.

Patrick Pelloux, a Charlie Hebdo columnist, fell sobbing into the arms of Hollande in an emotional embrace.

With dozens of world leaders present, security in the jittery French capital was beefed up, with police snipers stationed on rooftops and plain-clothes officers among the crowd in a city still reeling from the Islamist attacks.

“Today, Paris is the capital of the world,” Hollande said. “The entire country will rise up.”

More than a million also rallied in cities outside the capital and marches were held in several cities across Europe, including Berlin, Brussels and Madrid.

‘We will win’ 

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pledged that Europe “will win the challenge against terrorism”. Earlier he had tweeted using the hashtag #jesuischarlie (I am Charlie), which has already been used more than five million times.

US President Barack Obama was represented by Attorney General Eric Holder, who took part in an emergency meeting of interior ministers to discuss the threats from Islamic extremism.

The ministers urged a strengthening of the EU external borders to limit the movement of extremists returning to Europe from the Middle East and said there was an “urgent need” to share air passenger information.

Hollande has warned his grieving country not to drop its guard in the face of possible new attacks.

Ahead of the march, he met representatives from the Jewish community who said authorities had agreed to deploy soldiers to protect Jewish schools and synagogues in France “if necessary.”

The rampage by three gunmen who claimed to be members of the al-Qaeda and Islamic State extremist groups was followed by a chilling new threat from the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

German newspaper Bild said the bloodshed in France could signal the start of a wave of attacks in Europe, citing communications by Islamic State leaders intercepted by US intelligence.

‘Armed and dangerous’ 

France’s three days of terror started on Wednesday when brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi burst into Charlie Hebdo’s offices in central Paris and sprayed bullets into the editorial meeting, killing some of France’s best-known cartoonists.

They then slaughtered a Muslim policeman as he lay helpless on the ground before fleeing, sparking a manhunt that lasted more than 48 hours.

A day later, a third gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, shot dead a policewoman in a southern Paris suburb.

In a video posted online on Sunday, a man who appeared to be Coulibaly said the gunmen co-ordinated their efforts and claimed he was a member of Islamic State who was avenging attacks by the international community on the extremist group.

The massive hunt for the attackers culminated in twin hostage dramas that gripped the world as Coulibaly stormed into a Jewish supermarket in eastern Paris and seized terrified shoppers.

The two brothers took one person hostage in a printing firm northeast of Paris. After a tense stand-off police shot them dead as they charged out of the building all guns blazing.

Moments later, security forces stormed the kosher supermarket in eastern Paris, killing Coulibaly but making the grisly discovery that four innocent Jews had died during the hostage-taking.

All four will be buried in Israel on Tuesday, the community said.

Investigators have been trying to hunt down Coulibaly’s partner, 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, but a security source in Turkey told GNR she arrived there on 2 January, before the attacks, and has probably travelled on to Syria.

‘Clear failings’

The attacks have raised mounting questions about how the gunmen could have slipped through the net of the intelligence services despite being known to authorities for extremism.

Coulibaly’s mother and sisters condemned his actions.

“We absolutely do not share these extreme ideas. We hope there will not be any confusion between these odious acts and the Muslim religion,” they said.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls admitted there had been “clear failings” in intelligence after it emerged that the brothers had been on a US terror watch list “for years”.

Al-Shabaab praises Charlie Hebdo attack

Mogadishu – Somalia’s Al-Shabaab militants, al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Africa, on Friday praised the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly in Paris as a “heroic” act.

“They made millions of Muslims happy by taking action. Some misguided people claim that freedom of expression was attacked, but that is not the case, and the two heroic people acted accordingly,” Radio Andalus, the official mouthpiece of the militants, said in a commentary.

“They cut the head of non-believers who insulted our beloved prophet,” the radio said, adding that Osama Bin Laden had “told the West that if freedom of expression has no limit, then you have to expect your blood to be shed.”

The radio also noted that the two brothers suspected of carrying out the killings had “declared that they are part of al-Qaeda”, the Islamist network to which the Al-Shebaab are also affiliated.

The Al-Shebaab, who control large areas of rural Somalia, are reported to have close links with al-Qaeda fighters in neighbouring Yemen, where one of the two brothers suspected of carrying out the attack is believed to have trained.

France, foreign leaders to march together in show of solidarity after attacks

Hundreds of thousands of French citizens will be joined by dozens of foreign leaders, among them Arab and Muslim representatives, in a march in Paris on Sunday in honor of the victims of this week’s Islamist militant attacks.

The march, which is to start at 3 p.m. (9.00 a.m. EST) and be made in silence, will be a show of solidarity and also reflect the profound shock felt in France and across the world over the worst Islamist assault on a European city in nine years.

Seventeen people, including journalists and policemen, lost their lives in three days of violence that began with a shooting attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday and ended with a hostage-taking at a kosher supermarket on Friday. The three gunmen were also killed.

Security forces will be on the highest alert for the event, which will attended by about 40 heads of state and government.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italy Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will march with President Francois Hollande. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu are also expected to take part.

“It will be an unprecedented manifestation that will be written in the history books,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.

“It must show the power and dignity of the French people, who will cry out their love of liberty and tolerance,” he said.

Meanwhile, Turkish and French sources said that a woman hunted by French police as a suspect in the attacks had left France several days before the killings and is believed to be in Syria.

French police launched in an intensive search for Hayat Boumeddiene, the 26-year-old partner of one of the attackers, describing her as “armed and dangerous”.

But a source familiar with the situation said Boumeddiene left France last week and traveled to Syria via Turkey. A senior Turkish official corroborated that account, saying she passed through Istanbul on Jan. 2.

A senior Turkish security official said Paris and Ankara were now cooperating in trying to trace her but that she had arrived in Istanbul without any warning from France.

“We think she is in Syria at the moment but we do not have any evidence about that. She is most probably not in Turkey,” the Turkish source said.

Across France on Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people took part in rallies to demonstrate against the attacks. Many people carried signs saying “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) in reference to the magazine where 12 people, including its top cartoonists, were killed on Wednesday.

“I want my child to be born in a better world,” Pierine, 29 and heavily pregnant, said at a march in the Mediterranean city of Nice.

On Sunday, public transport in the Paris region was to be free. In a huge security operation, plainclothes policemen were to protect leading personalities with snipers posted on rooftops along the route from Place de la Republique to Place de la Nation.

“Everything will be done to make sure that those who want to come to this meeting can do so safely,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

However, right-wing National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who is expected to receive a boost in the polls due to the attacks,

said her party would shun the Paris demonstration and instead take part in regional marches.

She accused the Socialist government of trying to take advantage of the event to win greater support.

Paris attack suspect left last week

A woman hunted by French police as a suspect in the attacks on a satirical paper and Jewish supermarket in Paris left France several day before the killings and is believed to be in Syria, Turkish and French sources said on Saturday.

After killing the gunmen behind the worst assault in France for decades, French police launched in an intensive search for Hayat Boumeddiene, the 26-year-old partner of one of the attackers, describing her as “armed and dangerous”.

But a source familiar with the situation said that Boumeddiene left France last week and travelled to Syria via Turkey. A senior Turkish official corroborated that account, saying she passed through Istanbul on 2 January.

Security forces remained on high alert before a march on Sunday which will bring together European leaders in a show of solidarity for the 17 victims killed in three days of violence that began with an attack on the Charlie Hebdo weekly on Wednesday and ended with Friday’s dual sieges at a print works outside Paris and a kosher supermarket in the city.

French security forces shot dead the two brothers behind the Hebdo killings after they took refuge in the print works. They also killed an associate – Boumeddiene’s partner – who planted explosives at the Paris deli in a siege that claimed the lives of four hostages.

On Saturday, police maintained a heavy presence around the French capital, with patrols at sensitive sites including media offices, and local vigils were held across France. The Interior Ministry said about 700 000 people attended including 120 000 in Toulouse, 75 000 in Nantes, and 50 000 in Marseille.

“It’s no longer like before,” said Maria Pinto, on a street in central Paris. “You work a whole life through and because of these madmen, you leave your house to go shopping, go to work, and you don’t know if you’ll come home.”

The attack on Charlie Hebdo, a journal that satirised Islam as well as other religions and politicians, raised sensitive questions about freedom of speech, religion and security in a country struggling to integrate five million Muslims.

No warning

A source familiar with the situation said that Boumeddiene left France last week and travelled to Syria via Turkey.

“On 2 January, a woman corresponding to her profile and presenting a piece of identity took a flight from Madrid to Istanbul,” a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.

The source said she was accompanied by a man and had a return ticket for 9 January, but never took the flight.

A senior Turkish security official said Paris and Ankara were now cooperating in trying to trace her, but said she arrived in Istanbul without any warning from France.

“After they informed us about her … we identified her mobile phone signal on Jan 8,” the source said. “We think she is in Syria at the moment but we do not have any evidence about that … She is most probably not in Turkey,” the source said, adding the last signal from her phone was detected on Thursday.

An official police photograph of Boumeddiene shows a young woman with long dark hair hitched back over her ears. French media, however, released photos purporting to be of a fully-veiled Boumeddiene, posing with a cross-bow, in what they said was a 2010 training session in the mountainous Cantal region.

French media described her as one of seven children whose mother died when she was young and whose delivery-man father struggled to keep working while looking after the family. As an adult, she lost her job as a cashier when she converted to Islam and started wearing the niqab.

Le Monde said Boumeddiene wed Amedy Coulibaly in a religious ceremony not recognised by French civil authorities in 2009. The two were questioned by police in 2010 and Coulibaly jailed for his involvement in a botched plot to spring from jail the author of a deadly 1995 attack on the Paris transport system.

Booby traps

Participation of European leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s David Cameron and Italy’s Matteo Renzi in a silent march through Paris with President Francois Hollande will pose further demands for security forces on Sunday.

Arab League representatives and some Muslim African leaders as well as Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will attend.

Political and security chiefs were reviewing how two French-born brothers of Algerian extraction, Cherif and Said Kouachi, could have carried out the Charlie Hebdo attacks despite having been on surveillance and “no-fly” lists for many years.

Paris chief prosecutor Francois Molins said late on Friday the three men killed on Friday in the two security operations had had a large arsenal of weapons and had set up booby traps. They had a loaded M82 rocket launcher, two Kalashnikov machine guns and two automatic pistols on them.

With one of the gunmen saying shortly before his death that he was funded by al-Qaeda, Hollande warned that the danger to France – home to the European Union’s biggest populations of both Muslims and Jews – was not over yet.

“These madmen, fanatics, have nothing to do with the Muslim religion,” Hollande said in a televised address.

“France has not seen the end of the threats it faces,” said Hollande, facing record unpopularity over his handling of the economy but whose government has received praise from at least one senior opposition leader for its handling of the crisis.

An audio recording posted on YouTube attributed to a leader of the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda (AQAP) said the attack was prompted by insults to prophets but stopped short of claiming responsibility for the assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo.

Anwar al Awlaki

Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas condemned the strike as an unjustifiable terrorist attack.

Before his death at the printing works, Cherif Kouachi told a television station he had received financing from an al-Qaeda preacher, Anwar al Awlaki, in Yemen.

Al Awlaki, an influential international recruiter for al Qaeda, was killed in September 2011 in a drone strike. A senior Yemeni intelligence source told Reuters that Kouachi’s brother Said had also met al Awlaki during a stay in Yemen in 2011.

Paris prosecutor Molins said there had been sustained contact between Boumeddiene and the wife of Cherif Kouachi, with records of no fewer than 500 phone calls between the two last year. The wife of Kouachi is being questioned by French police.

Coulibaly had also called BFM-TV, to claim allegiance to Islamic State, saying he wanted to defend Palestinians and target Jews. He said he had jointly planned the attacks with the Kouachi brothers, and police confirmed they were all members of the same Islamist cell in northern Paris.

France deploys troops before million-strong march

France deployed hundreds of troops around Paris on Saturday, beefing up security on the eve of a march expected to draw more than a million in tribute to 17 victims of a three-day killing spree.

Fears remained acute and security levels were kept at France’s highest level as the girlfriend of one of three gunmen killed in a fiery climax to twin hostage dramas on Friday remained on the loose.

But refusing to be cowed, people poured onto the streets in cities around France in poignantly silent marches paying tribute to those killed in the nation’s bloodiest week in more than half a century.

The marches in the cities of Nice, Pau and Orleans were a taste of what was to come in Paris on Sunday, where a monster rally will be held for national unity, to be attended by President Francois Hollande and a host of world leaders.

The defence ministry said it was sending another 500 soldiers into the greater Paris area, bringing current numbers to what will be about 1 350 troops.

After Friday’s dramatic events, Hollande warned grimly that the threats facing France “weren’t over”, comments followed by a chilling new threat from a Yemen-based al-Qaeda group.

Security forces were focused on hunting down 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, the “armed and dangerous” partner of Amedy Coulibaly who took terrified shoppers hostage in a Jewish supermarket on Friday, killing four of them.

Before he was killed by elite police in a massive assault on the store, he told journalists he was a member of the Islamic State jihadist group.

Coulibaly and Boumeddiene are the prime suspects in the murder of a policewoman on Thursday just outside the French capital.

That attack further spooked a nation still reeling from the Wednesday assault at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly in Paris that saw two gunmen mow down 12 people including some of the country’s best-known cartoonists.

In a sombre address after Friday’s sieges, Hollande said: “I call on all the French people to rise up this Sunday, together, to defend the values of democracy, freedom and pluralism to which we are attached.”

But as leaders urged the country to pull together in grief and determination, questions were also mounting over how the three men – brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, and Coulibaly – had slipped through the security net after it emerged that all three were known to the intelligence agencies.

‘Appalling anti-Semitic act’

France’s darkest week in decades came to an explosive end on Friday after the gunmen holed up in two hostage dramas about 30km apart.

The massive manhunt for the two Kouachi brothers developed into a car chase and then a tense standoff as they held a hostage in a printing firm northeast of Paris.

The small town of Dammartin-en-Goele was transformed into what looked like a war zone, with elite forces deploying snipers, helicopters and heavy-duty military equipment as they surrounded the pair.

With all eyes on the siege outside Paris, suddenly explosions and gunfire shook the City of Light itself as Coulibaly stormed a Jewish supermarket on the eastern fringes of the capital.

In what Hollande called an “appalling anti-Semitic act”, Coulibaly took terrified shoppers hostage hours before the Jewish Sabbath, killing four.

As the sun set on the horrified capital, the brothers charged out of the building with guns blazing in a desperate last stand, before being cut down.

Within minutes, elite commando units moved against Coulibaly, who had threatened to execute his hostages unless the brothers were released.

Coulibaly had just knelt for his evening prayer when the special forces struck. Explosions rocked the neighbourhood – one lighting up the shopfront in a fireball – and shooting erupted as the commandos burst in.

“It’s war!” shouted a mother as she pulled her daughter away.

Up to five people – including a three-year-old boy – survived hidden inside a refrigerator for five hours, with police pinpointing their location using their mobile phones, prosecutors and relatives said.

In the printing firm, the brothers took the manager hostage, later releasing him after he helped Said with a neck wound, while a second man hid beneath a sink upstairs.

‘Clear failings’ 

As the drama reached its climax, links emerged showing the brothers and Coulibaly were close allies and had worked together.

All three had a radical past and were known to French intelligence.

Cherif Kouachi, 32, was a known jihadist who was convicted in 2008 for involvement in a network sending fighters to Iraq.

His brother Said, 34, was known to have travelled to Yemen in 2011, where he received weapons training from AQAP.

It also emerged that the brothers had been on a US terror watch list “for years”.

Cherif told French TV he was acting on behalf of the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula while Coulibaly said he was a member of the Islamic State group.

Coulibaly, 32 – who met Cherif Kouachi in prison – was sentenced to five years in prison in 2013 for his role in a failed bid to break an Algerian Islamist, Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, out of jail.

Boumeddiene and Cherif’s girlfriend spoke “more than 500” times by phone in 2014, said Paris’s chief prosecutor Francois Molins.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the carnage they left in their wake showed there had been “clear failings” in intelligence.

The Islamic State group’s radio praised them as “heroes” and Somalia’s Shebab militants, al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Africa, hailed their “heroic” act.

Meanwhile, AQAP top sharia official Harith al-Nadhari chillingly warned France to “stop your aggression against the Muslims” or face further attacks, in comments released by the SITE monitoring group.

Cartoonist lambastes Charlie’s ‘new friends’

A prominent Dutch cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo heaped scorn on the French satirical weekly’s “new friends” since the massacre at its Paris offices, in particular far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

“We have a lot of new friends, like the pope, Queen Elizabeth and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. It really makes me laugh,” Bernard Holtrop, whose pen name is Willem, told the Dutch centre-left daily Volkskrant.

“Marine Le Pen is delighted when the Islamists start shooting all over the place,” said Willem, 73, a longtime Paris resident who also draws for the French leftist daily Liberation.

He added: “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends.”

Commenting on the global outpouring of support for the weekly, Willem scoffed: “They’ve never seen Charlie Hebdo.”

“A few years ago, thousands of people took to the streets in Pakistan to demonstrate against Charlie Hebdo. They didn’t know what it was. Now it’s the opposite, but if people are protesting to defend freedom of speech, naturally that’s a good thing.”

Willem was on a train between northwestern Lorient and Paris when he learned of Wednesday’s attack by two Islamist gunmen as the paper was holding its weekly editorial meeting.

He told Liberation: “I never come to the editorial meetings because I don’t like them. I guess that saved my life.”

Willem stressed that Charlie Hebdo must continue to publish. “Otherwise, [the Islamists] have won.”

Hunted woman left France – source

The suspected female accomplice of Islamists behind attacks in Paris left France last week and traveled to Syria via Turkey, a source familiar with the situation said on Saturday.

French police are searching for 26-year-old old Hayat Boumeddiene, believed to be the partner of a man who killed a police woman and four people at a Jewish supermarket on Friday.

Meanwhile our correspondent reported that a “survivors’ issue” of Charlie Hebdo to be published in a few days will also be sold outside France because of the huge global attention on the satirical weekly after the massacre of its top staff – marking a turnaround for a publication that just a week ago was on the brink of folding.

The remaining employees of the paper are putting out the special edition on Wednesday, with one million copies to be printed instead of the usual 60 000.

Public appeal

In a sign of the international support, the slogan #JeSuisCharlie has now been used more than five million times online, making it the most-shared hashtag for France-related topics ever.

All money from sales of the issue are to go to the families of the 12 people murdered in the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices by two Islamist gunmen.

The massacre wiped out five of the newspaper’s leading cartoonists. The surviving members of the publication are working in premises loaned by the newspaper Liberation to produce the new issue.

The newspaper, named after the American comic book character Charlie Brown (“Hebdo” is French slang for weekly), had only in November made a public appeal for donations to keep going.

Mali: 4 prisoners exchanged for French hostage

Paris – The Malian government says it exchanged four prisoners to secure the release of a French hostage held for three years by al-Qaeda’s North African branch.

The liberation of Serge Lazarevic last week revived debate among Western governments over whether to negotiate with hostage-takers.

Mali government spokesman Mahamane Baby said on Sunday that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb demanded the release of six prisoners “but the government freed only four, including two Malians”.

The French government has not publicly confirmed a prisoner exchange or explained the circumstances of Lazarevic’s release.

France insists it pays no ransoms and does not exchange prisoners, although President Francois Hollande has acknowledged that other countries have done so, “to help us”.

Last French hostage freed, reviving policy debate

Paris – France’s last hostage was freed on Tuesday after being held for more than three years by al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch — rekindling debate over whether countries should negotiate with extremists or stick to a muscular, uncompromising policy that runs the risk of a beheading or a botched rescue attempt.

French President Francois Hollande announced the “happy news” that 51-year-old Serge Lazarevic had been freed from captivity in Mali, prompting a standing ovation in the National Assembly.

“We no longer have any hostages in any country of the world, and we should not have any,” Hollande said.

TV images hours later showed a smiling Lazarevic — bald, goateed and 20kg lighter — as he met with Niger’s president. He was to fly to France early on Wednesday.

The release stood in sharp contrast to the failed rescue in Yemen last weekend that ended in the deaths of an American journalist and a South African aid worker held by al-Qaida’s branch in the Arabian Peninsula.

Ransoms

The announcement immediately raised questions over what concessions the French government made to the extremist group holding Lazarevic, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim). France insists it pays no ransoms and does not exchange prisoners, although in September Hollande acknowledged that “other countries have done so, to help us”.

But as with numerous French hostage releases in recent years, the story of Lazarevic’s release was far from complete. Hollande credited co-operation of the governments of Mali and Niger, but gave no details.

Analysts, lawmakers and critics quickly took to the French airwaves to discuss the pros and cons of paying ransoms and speculate whether the French government, its friends or affiliates did.

Worryingly for some, Lazarevic may have been freed in a trade.

His liberation came days after the release of two al-Qaeda fighters imprisoned in Mali for his kidnapping and that of a colleague, Philippe Verdon, according to a security official in Mali. Verdon was later found shot to death in July 2013.

Other reasons for their presence

The two al-Qaeda detainees were transferred to mediators in Niger on Saturday and turned over to al-Qaeda, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety.

A French official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive declined to give any details on the release of the al-Qaida prisoners beyond saying the negotiations to secure Lazarevic’s freedom were led by Mali and Niger.

Lazarevic and Verdon were kidnapped from their hotel in north-eastern Mali in November 2011 while doing a feasibility study for a cement factory, their families have said. Speculation is widespread, however, that there were other reasons for their presence in Mali, a long-time desert hideout for al-Qaeda and other extremists in Africa’s Sahel region.

Aqim alleged that they were French spies, but a Western counterterrorism official denied the claim.

Hostage-taking is a lucrative business in Mali and other Sahel countries. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb took numerous Western hostages until France intervened in Mali in January 2013 to rout out extremists. US officials have quietly accused France and other European countries of paying ransoms for their kidnapped citizens.

“The darkest news”

President Barack Obama last month ordered a review of how the United States responds when its citizens are taken hostage overseas, following the beheadings of Americans by Islamic militants in recent months. But the US administration said the review will not include changing the policy against ransoms.

“You have a choice between the policy of Mr Obama, which appears to be not to negotiate and to see hostages killed, and a position of negotiating without admitting it,” Alain Marsaud, a conservative French lawmaker, told the BFM television network.

“It’s true that we negotiate, we pay, and we try to get results …. There isn’t a single Frenchman who believes Mr Lazarevic was freed because Mr Hollande has nice eyes.”

Hollande on Tuesday urged French citizens and companies to take continued precautions against kidnappings. At one point, at least 14 French nationals were held hostage by Islamic militants in West Africa.

His tone was tempered by confirmation of “the darkest news” about another French hostage: Gilberto Rodriguez-Leal, who was captured in 2012 while travelling in Mauritania and Mali. Authorities have for months feared he was dead.

Political pressure

Pierre Martinet, a former official for France’s spy agency DGSE, said French citizens will continue to be targeted by extremist kidnappers “because they know it’s among the governments that directly negotiate for their liberation.”

“It’s part of geopolitics,” Martinet said on French TV. “I know very well that we have given money; I know people myself who have given money. It happens. We have to stop lying to ourselves.”

Pascal Lupart, ex-president of a support committee for the two French hostages, said he was particularly concerned that Lazarevic may have been freed only after two of his kidnappers were freed.

Extremists know that seizing French hostages is “financial manna,” Lupart said. “You’re not going to tell me that he was freed because of political pressure.”

On French TV, Africa expert Antoine Glaser noted that France often leans hard on African leaders to help win the freedom of French hostages.

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou acknowledged as much after welcoming Lazarevic on Tuesday. Hollande, he said, took him aside at an Africa security conference in Paris last December and asked him to “keep up the work” on Lazarevic’s case after four French hostages seized in Niger were released last year.

French hostage freed in Mali

Paris – France’s only remaining hostage held abroad, Serge Lazarevic, who was kidnapped in Mali in 2011, has been freed and is in “relatively good health”, French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday.

“Our hostage Serge Lazarevic, our last hostage is free,” Hollande said.

“There are no more French hostages in any country in the world.”

Hollande said Lazarevic would be met by his daughter in the Nigerian capital Niamey before making his way back to France where he and his family would be welcomed by the president.

“He is in relatively good health, despite the gruelling conditions of his long captivity,” said Hollande.

Lazarevic, who has dual French and Serbian citizenship, was the last French hostage still being held worldwide, after hiker Herve Gourdel was abducted in Algeria and beheaded in September by Islamic State-linked militants.

Several French citizens have been kidnapped in recent years, mostly in Africa where up to 15 were held in 2013.

Lazarevic was accompanying Frenchman Philippe Verdon on a business trip when they were both seized by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on November 24, 2011.

Both were held throughout the takeover by AQIM and other armed groups of vast areas of northern Mali in 2012 which resulted in an intervention by the French army in January 2013 to oust the Islamists.

Verdon was found shot dead last year and Lazarevic had last been seen in an AQMI video in November in which he said he was gravely ill and believed his life to be in danger.

Hollande thanked authorities in Mali and Niger for their assistance in securing Lazarevic’s release.

“This liberation was the result of intense and continued efforts from authorities both in Niger and Mali,” the presidency in Niamey said in a statement.

France: Cargo plane detained in Nigeria has no weapons

Kano – A Russian cargo plane that Nigerian authorities detained on Saturday had no weapons on it but was carrying two French army helicopters out of Central African Republic, the French ambassador said on Monday.

The Antonov 124 had been travelling from Bangui to the Chadian capital N’Djamena but made an emergency landing in Kano because of traffic congestion at N’Djamena airport, the statement from Jacques Champagne de Labriolle said, adding that Kano was the “closest airport facility”.

The plane was allowed to take off from Kano on Monday evening, the Russian embassy in Nigeria said on its official Twitter account.

Nigerian authorities detained it on arrival and questioned its French crew. A Nigerian security source said that in addition to two helicopters, there was also a bullet-proof jeep and boxes of suspected military hardware, without giving further details.

Nigerian authorities have not responded to repeated requests for comment on the incident since Saturday.

Two French non-commissioned officers were escorting the Gazelle helicopters, Labriolle said.

“The shipment is organised as the size of the French military intervention in CAR (Central African Republic) is being reduced,” he said. “The Nigerian federal and airport authorities, being satisfied with the documents and the genuine character of the flight, have announced that the plane will be authorized to pursue its flight to N’Djamena.”

The plane was still in the airport at around 13:00, our correspondent said.

“There was absolutely no weapon, and no ammunition on board the aircraft,” Labriolle said.

He added that the transfer was “part of the French effort to support regional co-operation against terrorism” in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, all of whose border areas around Lake Chad are plagued by Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

French jets to join fight against ISIS

Niamey – French fighter jets are due to arrive in Jordan soon to join operations against the Islamic State group in Iraq, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Sunday.

“The show of strength is continuing with the arrival of Mirage planes in the coming days,” Valls said during a visit to the Niger capital Niamey.

Earlier he had said the jets were already in Jordan.

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French jihadists call for attacks on France

Paris – A horrified France was grappling with a new reality on Thursday in which hundreds of its citizens are openly joining jihadist groups and directly calling for attacks on their homeland.

A new video from the Islamic State group released on jihadist forums and Twitter on Wednesday showed three Kalashnikov-wielding Frenchmen burning their passports and calling on Muslims to join them or stage attacks in France.

The new video explicitly calls for retaliation against France for launching air strikes against the Islamic State group, which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq.

It follows the appearance of two other French jihadists – identified as 22-year-olds Maxime Hauchard and Mickael Dos Santos – in a brutal ISIS execution video released at the weekend.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced on Wednesday that France would step up its campaign against the jihadists, sending six Mirage fighter jets to Jordan in December.

France currently has nine Rafale jets based in the more distant United Arab Emirates as part of a US-led international campaign to provide air support to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting the group.

Its most recent strikes, Le Drian said, targeted trenches used by ISIS fighters around the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Tuesday.

‘We know the dangers’

But France is increasingly looking inwards as it reels from the news that over 1 000 people from a wide range of backgrounds have left to join the jihadists in Iraq and Syria, with 375 currently there.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Wednesday that “close to 50” French citizens or residents of France have been killed in the conflict zone.

“So we know the dangers and, sadly, we are not surprised to learn that French citizens or residents of France are found at the heart of these cells and taking part in this barbarity,” said Valls.

Figures published in the Le Monde newspaper this week found almost a quarter of those who left to join the jihadists are converts to Islam, with many coming from jarringly everyday French backgrounds.

One study from the Centre for Prevention Against Islamic Sectarianism recently found that 80% of parents reporting concerns about their child’s radicalisation described themselves as atheist.

Non-Muslim origins

Hauchard, for instance, came from a small village in Normandy where he is remembered as a polite and amiable neighbour prior to adopting radical Islam in his teens.

French authorities say the other French jihadist in the video, Dos Santos, is of Portuguese origin but born in the French riverside town of Champigny-sur-Marne.

He was part of a network of radical young men in his neighbourhood and is believed to have left for Syria in the autumn of 2013, according to a government source.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that violent extremism had to be tackled “at the grassroots level”.

“We must continue to think more deeply into the fundamental conditions that allow extremism to thrive. Looking at these challenges solely through a military lens has shown its limits,” he told a special Security Council meeting on counter-terrorism.

France is far from alone in dealing with the problem.

As a proportion of their populations, Belgium and Denmark are the biggest contributors to the jihad in Iraq and Syria, although France — which has Europe’s largest Muslim population — has sent the largest overall contingent.

“France is particularly affected by this phenomenon in part because networks still exist that sent volunteers to fight against the Americans in Iraq after 2003,” said Louis Caprioli, a former head of counter-terrorism for the French intelligence service.

He also pointed towards the “Tabligh” movement of Islamic preachers that has been “very active in French towns and suburbs since the mid-1990s” – providing a base from which some members of the community moved on to more radical off-shoots.

“Its efforts to re-Islamise young people of second and third-generation immigrant communities is now bearing fruit,” said Caprioli.

He said even the converts to Islam were often in close proximity to these immigrant communities, although he emphasised there were multiple explanations for the burgeoning numbers of radicalised youth, not least “the extraordinary quality of Islamic State communications, which perfectly exploit all the tools of the Internet.”

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France to question synagogue bomb suspect

Paris – A Lebanese-Canadian who is the main suspect in a 1980 bombing that killed four people outside a Paris synagogue has arrived in Paris and will be questioned in court on Saturday, a court source told Reuters.

Hassan Diab was extradited from Canada after the country’s highest court on Thursday refused to rule on his appeal against extradition to France.

Diab was arrested by Canadian police in 2008 but was released and lived under judicial supervision, his lawyer said.

“My client has always said he is innocent, and will continue to do so,” Diab’s lawyer Stephane Bonifassi told Reuters.

Before his arrest, Diab, 60, had become a Canadian citizen and was a lecturer on sociology at two Ottawa universities.

Diab is the suspect in the incident, where a bomb was placed in a bag attached to a motorbike parked outside a synagogue in Rue Copernic in the wealthy 16th arrondissement. It exploded on the final day of a Jewish festival, just before a crowd was due to emerge from the synagogue.

Diab has said the evidence was based on a flawed handwriting analysis comparing his writing with that found on a Paris hotel registration card in 1980.

French intelligence has said Diab had been a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

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France urges Israel to rethink settlement

France called on Israel to “immediately” reverse a decision to approve the building of 200 new homes in settlements in East Jerusalem, a move it said directly threatened a two-state peace solution.

“The decision by the Israeli authorities approving the construction of 200 new homes in the Ramot settlement again directly threatens a two-state solution,” French Foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said.

“We call Israel to immediately go back on this decision at a time when everything should be done to stop the escalation (in violence) and relaunch the peace process,” Nadal said in an unusually strong statement.

The new housing is slated for a sprawling hillside complex of apartment buildings and private homes at the northern edge of Jerusalem, on land Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed to the city in a move never recognised internationally. Palestinians want this territory as part of a future state.

French lawmakers are set to hold symbolic parliamentary votes over the next month on whether the government should recognise Palestine as a state, a move likely to anger the Jewish state.

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France welcomes Burkina Faso leader’s resignation

Paris – France welcomed on Friday the resignation of Burkina Faso’s president Blaise Compaore after days of street protests against his bid to seek a new mandate, saying the move “allows a solution to be found to the crisis”.

“France recalls its support for the constitution and thus for early, democratic elections,” it said in a statement issued by President Francois Hollande’s office.

Compaore earlier announced his resignation and called for a 90-day transition to “free and transparent” elections in the West African country, local radio and television said. Burkina Faso’s armed forces chief General Honore Traore said that he had taken charge.

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French sergeant killed in Mali

France said on Wednesday a French soldier and about 20 Islamist militants were killed during a fierce clash in northern Mali, near the Algerian border, earlier in the day.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s office said in a statement that French forces had battled a militant group of 30 fighters in the Tigharghar valley, part of the mountainous Adrar des Ifoghas area.

“Particularly violent combat took place. Our soldier was mortally hurt and two of his comrades were wounded.”

The offices of President Francois Hollande and Le Drian both confirmed the death on Wednesday of Thomas Dupuy, a sergeant from a commando parachutist unit in the air force.

His death raised to 10 the number of French soldiers killed since France intervened militarily in Mali in January 2013 to help drive out Islamist insurgents who had seized control of the former French colony’s north.

About 20 “heavily armed” militants were killed in the operation that included combat helicopters, a statement from the army chief of staff said, adding that operations were ongoing.

A defence ministry source said French forces had launched an operation at the weekend against dozens of militants who had returned to the region after being driven out last year.

Addressing a parliamentary hearing earlier in the day, Le Drian said the militants might be linked to al-Qaeda’s North African wing, AQIM, which has thrived in a largely lawless and sparsely populated desert region.

France’s intervention in Mali was designed to retake control of northern towns that had been overrun by separatists and rebels linked to al-Qaeda in 2012 after a coup in the capital Bamako. It has since evolved into a 3 000-strong counter-terrorism mission stretching from Mauritania to southern Libya.

Le Drian on Monday criticised the slow deployment of UN peacekeepers in Mali’s volatile northern region and said he would send more troops to the area while the United Nations builds up its presence there.

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War of words strains France’s ruling party

Paris – Divisions plaguing France’s ruling party came to the fore on Wednesday as ousted ministers and allies of embattled President Francois Hollande engaged in a very public war of words.

The bickering, via interviews on competing radios and TV channels, came a day after a group of rebel Socialist lawmakers – including the former education, culture and environment ministers – abstained in a first parliament vote on France’s 2015 budget, which nevertheless went through with a small majority.

The public spat is likely to further embarrass the deeply unpopular Hollande, who has been unable to stem increasingly strident dissent within his party despite two cabinet reshuffles and public remonstrations.

First in line to vent his anger was Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, Socialist party chief and a Hollande ally, who told RTL radio he was “shocked” by former education and culture ministers Benoit Hamon and Aurelie Filippetti abstaining on the vote.

Both were left out of the government in an emergency August reshuffle initiated by Hollande to flush out dissenters.

He said their abstention “posed an ethical problem” and slammed “an attitude which for me is appalling”, pointing out that they had both approved part of the budget during a July cabinet meeting when they were still ministers.

Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll, meanwhile, said they had “neglected their duties”, as had former environment and energy minister Delphine Batho, who also abstained.

Quick to react, Filippetti told i-TELE that she had “no lessons to receive from anyone”, accusing Cambadelis of being “slightly dishonest”.

Hamon went a step further, saying the government’s current reformist, pro-business stance “threatens the republic” and would lead to a “huge democratic disaster” in the next presidential elections in 2017.

He warned on RFI radio that this disaster was “not only that (far-right leader) Marine Le Pen would get to the second round of elections without any resistance, but also the threat that soon, she will lead the country”.

The rebel lawmakers – a hard-core rump on the left of the Socialist party – are unhappy with public spending cuts and tax breaks for companies initiated by the government to try and emerge from a deep economic crisis.

France has so far been unable to stem sky-high unemployment and kickstart growth. The eurozone’s second-biggest economy has also admitted it will be unable to get its ballooning budget deficit below the EU ceiling until 2017 – two years later than promised.

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Black boxes from Total boss’s jet found

Moscow – Russian investigators said on Wednesday they were analysing the black boxes from The Jet That Crashed In Moscow This Week, killing the chief executive of France’s Total oil company.

The latest step in the probe came as speculation focused on the role of the driver of a snowplough that collided with the plane late on Monday and the air traffic controllers, one of whom may have been an intern.

The Interstate Aviation Committee, or MAK, which probes every air crash in Russia, said it had opened up the plane’s black boxes, which record the flight history and conversations in the cockpit.

MAK deputy head Sergei Zaiko told Rossiya 24 television that the plane was equipped with “modern and well protected black boxes”.

“We hope the quality of the information we have copied will be enough to carry out a thorough investigation,” the official said.

The boxes were opened in the presence of a Russian investigator and specialists from France’s accident investigation bureau known as BEA, MAK said.

Russian media reported that an intern at the air traffic control centre may have been in charge of the plane when it crashed just before midnight on Monday, killing Total boss Christophe de Margerie and three other people.

Izvestia newspaper quoted a source at Vnukovo airport as saying that a female intern who had qualified at the civil aviation college in the provincial city of Ulyanovsk was put in charge of the flight.

There has been no official confirmation from investigators or the airport.

RIA Novosti state news agency also quoted a source at the airport saying an intern had been put in charge of the flight.

An air traffic controller told RIA Novosti however that such interns would always be supervised by a more experienced colleague.

“An intern air traffic controller always controls the movement (of planes) only under the supervision of an experienced air traffic controller who is an instructor. Such responsible work is always monitored.”

Investigators said on Tuesday that mistakes by air traffic controllers and by the snowplough driver were considered the most likely scenario.

They also accused the airport senior management of “criminal negligence”, saying they failed coordinate staff’s actions and bore ultimate responsibility for their mistakes.

The snowplough driver has been detained for 48 hours. Russian television showed him being questioned by investigators, saying that he drove on to the runway by accident after losing his bearings.

Investigators said he was drunk at the time of the accident, allegations denied by his lawyer.

The Vnukovo 3 terminal is used for business travel and frequented by VIPs including Moscow’s mayor and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church,our correspondent reported.

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Man set to marry his step-mum

A man is set to marry his former stepmother after months of battling with French authorities.

Eric Holder, 45, will marry his father’s former wife 48-year-old Elisabeth Lorentz in the small village of Dabo in Alsace-Lorraine, in northeastern France.

Although the couple are not blood relatives, French law prohibits all unions between stepchildren and step-parents.

The couple pleaded their case through the courts only to receive a signed letter from President Francois Hollande last year reconfirming that such marriages are banned.

They finally obtained the right to marry from a local court in north-east France in June.

The prosecutor’s office opposed the decision but did not appeal.

Bride-to-be Elisabeth said: “At last, it’s the big day! I simply hope that our story will be useful to other couples in our situation, because I know there are some.”

But there are no hard feelings from her former husband – and her fiancé’s father – who will be among the 100 or so guests on the big day.

“He has always supported us,” Elisabeth added.

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French national taken in Algeria, group claims kidnapping

PARIS/ALGIERS – A French national was kidnapped in eastern Algeria on Sunday, France’s foreign ministry said, and his kidnappers issued a video threatening to kill him if Paris did not halt its intervention in Iraq.

The Caliphate Soldiers, a group linked to Islamic State militants, published a video on the Internet soon after the French ministry’s announcement on Monday, claiming responsibility for the kidnapping and showing a man who identified himself as Herve Gourdel, 55, from Nice in southern France.

The group said it would kill Gourdel if Paris did not halt its intervention in Iraq.

The French foreign ministry later confirmed the video was authentic.

In New York, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the taking of a French hostage would not deter French participation in a U.S.-led coalition of nations against Islamist State militants.

“We will do everything we can to liberate hostages,” Fabius, in New York for U.N. General Assembly, told reporters. “But a terrorist group cannot change France’s position.”

The kidnapping came just hours after Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani urged the group’s followers to attack citizens of the United States, France and other countries which have joined a coalition to destroy the radical group.

“A French national was kidnapped on Sunday in Algeria, in the region of Tizi Ouzou, while he was on holiday there,” deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexandre Georgini said in a statement.

Citing an interior ministry statement, Algeria’s state news agency APS said the Frenchman, who it described as a mountain guide, had been taken in the village of Ait Ouabane when he was traveling in a vehicle with some Algerian nationals.

France, which on Monday raised the threat level at 30 of its embassies across the Middle East and Africa, launched its first air strikes targeting Islamic State targets in Iraq on Friday. It has said all must be done to rid the region of the group.

President Francois Hollande said in a statement he had spoken to Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and that the two countries were cooperating at all levels to find and liberate the hostage.

Western diplomats and intelligence sources say they believe there are less than 10 hostages still held by Islamic State. The group has recently killed two Americans, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and one Briton, David Haines, and threatened to kill another Briton, Alan Henning.

The kidnapping was one of the first abductions of a foreigner by militants in Algeria since the North African country ended its decade-long war with Islamist fighters in the 1990s.

The area where the Frenchman was taken is a mountainous region which was once a stronghold for the fighters. There have been several kidnappings targeting Algerian businessmen for extortion in the area but most were freed by security forces.

Al Qaeda’s North Africa branch, AQIM, and other groups are still active in Algeria.

CALIPHATE SOLDIERS OF ALGERIA

The four-minute video that appeared on YouTube and Islamic State Twitter accounts on Monday was entitled “A message from the Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria to the dog Hollande.”

The Caliphate Soldiers said in a statement on Sept. 14 it had split from AQIM and sworn loyalty to the Islamic State.

The video opens with images of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, commander of the Islamic State, while in the background Monday’s speech from Islamic State spokesman Adnani is played threatening France, coalition allies and Iran.

“We, the Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria, in compliance with the order of our leader Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi … give Hollande, president of the criminal French state, 24 hours to cease its hostility against the Islamic State, otherwise the fate of his citizen will be slaughter.

“To save his life, you must officially announce the end of your hostility against the Islamic State,” a speaker on the video said.

The video then shows Gourdel sitting next to two armed gunmen in black turbans and carrying assault rifles. He said he arrived in Algeria on Sept. 20 and was taken on Sept. 21.

“I am in the hands of Jund al-Khilifa (Caliphate Soldiers), an Algerian armed group. This armed group is asking me to ask you (President Hollande) to not intervene in Iraq. They are holding me as a hostage and I ask you Mr. President to do everything to get me out of this bad situation. I thank you.”

Gourdel’s friends and relatives confirmed to a Reuters reporter in Nice that the man in the video was Gourdel.

Local private Echorouk television and agency APS said Algerian military had began a search operation in the area.

Militant attacks and operations are rarer now in Algeria. But at the start of 2013, Islamist militants attacked the Amenas gas plant in southern Algeria, triggering a siege during which 40 oil workers, mostly foreigners, were killed.

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Boy ordered tried in French street artist’s death

Detroit – A judge on Thursday ordered a 14-year-old boy to stand trial on first-degree murder and armed robbery charges in the fatal shooting of a French street artist whose body was discovered a year ago near an abandoned public housing project.

The boy was 13 at the time of the killing of 23-year-old Bilal Berreni of Paris. County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has said that the boy and three other then-teenagers carried out the attack.

Berreni was found with a gunshot wound to the face on 29 July 2013, outside the Frederick Douglass Homes. No identification was on his body, and it was seven months before Michigan State Police identified him, using fingerprints.

At a hearing Thursday, police Investigator Ira Todd testified that the boy told officers that he and his friends were shooting dice when they decided to rob and kill someone, the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News reported. The boy said they spotted Berreni skateboarding, pulled a gun on him and demanded money, according to Todd.

Enough evidence

“I don’t have any money,” Berreni told the teens, according to the 14-year-old’s statement.

“Stop lying to me,” said Dionte Travis, then 16, according to the younger boy’s statement. The 14-year-old said he and his friends took $300, credit cards and a backpack from Berreni. Afterward, Travis stood over Berreni with a gun, a shot went off and Berreni slumped over, the younger boy’s statement said.

The 14-year-old told police that he used his $50 share of the robbery to buy “junk food” and marijuana, Todd said.

After hearing the testimony, Judge Virgil Smith ruled that there was enough evidence to try the 14-year-old. His next hearing is 22 September before Judge Alexis Glendening.

The boy is designated as an adult in the juvenile court system. If he’s convicted, a judge could sentence him as a juvenile, an adult or a juvenile for a period, then an adult.

First-degree murder

Travis, now 17; Jasin Curtis, 18; and Drequone Rich, 20, were scheduled to have a probable cause hearing on Thursday in adult court on first-degree murder, robbery and other charges. A Detroit district judge instead ordered that they undergo competency proceedings and rescheduled a hearing for 9 October.

Prosecutors aren’t naming the 14-year-old because of his age, and The Associated Press generally doesn’t name juveniles accused of crimes. The AP is naming Travis because he was charged as an adult.

Family members of the teen declined to comment to reporters after the hearing. The AP left phone and email messages for the boy’s lawyer, George Chedraue, on Thursday night seeking comment.

Berreni graduated from an applied arts school, then left to pursue his work around the world. He signed his work under the name the Zoo Project, gaining attention in 2011 through work in Tunisia in which he made life-size pictures of people killed in unrest in that North African nation.

He visited Detroit in 2012 and again in 2013. His father said he occasionally may have lived as a squatter in vacant structures.

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Two thirds of French want Hollande to quit- poll

Paris – Nearly two thirds of French voters would like to see their deeply unpopular Socialist president, Francois Hollande, resign before the end of his term in 2017, a poll showed on Thursday.

The IFOP/Le Figaro magazine survey showed that 62% of respondents wanted him to quit, three years before the next scheduled presidential election. A quarter of Socialist voters said they wanted to see the president resign.

Hollande, who is the most unpopular French president since World War Two, has seen his approval score fall to an unprecedented low of 13% in one poll due largely to frustration about the struggling economy.

While unemployment is stuck above 10% and growth is flat, measures to reduce the public deficit have saddled voters with higher taxes, yet failed to help France reach European deficit-cutting targets on time.

Bad news

Finance Minister Michel Sapin announced this week that France would break the latest in a long line of promises to European Union partners to cut the deficit, conceding it would now take until 2017 to reach the targets.

Hollande has also suffered embarrassment on the personal front, with former companion Valerie Trierweiler accusing him of disliking the poor in a tell-all book which its publisher said is one of the decade’s top best-sellers.

In comments at a Nato summit in south Wales last week, Hollande told journalists that no poll could make him step down before the end of his term.

But the bad news has continued to flow. Last week, a junior trade minister resigned just nine days after his appointment in a cabinet reshuffle after it emerged he had not paid income taxes for three years.

Thomas Thevenoud, who had also stacked up hefty rent arrears on his Parisian apartment, told Wednesday’s edition of satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine that he suffered from a syndrome called “administrative phobia”.

IFOP’s poll was conducted online on 8-9 September and 1 002 people aged 18 and over were questioned.

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Fired French minister ‘forgot’ to pay rent for 3 years

Paris – Former French trade minister Thomas Thevenoud, who lasted less than a fortnight in office before being sacked for tax irregularities, also failed to pay the rent on his Paris apartment, a newspaper said on Wednesday.

This “forgetfulness led to his being threatened with eviction” from his apartment on the upmarket Left Bank of Paris, reported newspaper Le Canard Enchaine.

Thevenoud, who was fired last week for “problems of conformity with his taxes”, reportedly failed to pay his rent for three years.

Le Canard said he had confessed to “an administrative phobia” that put him off such tasks. It added that he has now “resolved his debts and changed landlord”.

According to the paper, Thevenoud’s former landlord “heard about the fiscal problems of his former tenant last week, he called the interior ministry to tell his story”.

Thevenoud did not respond to requests for comment from GNR.

Thevenoud’s two-week tenure in government provided yet another embarrassment to the embattled Socialist government of President Francois Hollande, who faces record-low approval ratings.

Despite pressure, Thevenoud has stated he will not resign from parliament, although he has quit the Socialist Party.

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French and German leaders mark WW1 anniversary

The French and German presidents will commemorate the 100th anniversary of Germany’s declaration of war on France on 3 August 1914.

Francois Hollande and his German counterpart, Joachim Gauck, will make a joint tribute in Alsace to soldiers killed during World War One.

They will also lay the first stone for a memorial at Vieil Armand cemetery.

On Monday events will be held in Belgium to mark Britain’s declaration of war on Germany.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron will take part in that ceremony in recognition of the day that Britain went to war.

Some 30,000 men were killed in the mountains around Vieil Armand, known in German as Hartmannswillerkopf.

The cemetery there contains the remains of 12,000 unidentified soldiers.

Mr Hollande and Mr Gauck will pay tribute to the sacrifice those men made and celebrate the importance of the modern Franco-German relationship in Europe.

They will lay the foundation stone for a Great War memorial and exhibition centre on the site, which is due to open its doors to the public in 2017.

The two leaders will meet again on Monday in the Belgian city of Liege, where heads of state from across Europe will mark the escalation of the war after Germany invaded Belgium.

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50 kilos of seized cocaine missing from Paris police headquarters

French authorities have ordered a probe after more than 50 kilos of seized cocaine worth millions of euros went missing from the Paris police headquarters.

The theft was discovered on Thursday and a probe was launched, the police said. The cocaine was seized in raids that took place in July and was stored in a secure room.

“If the investigation shows that the law has been broken… very firm measures will be immediately taken,” the police said.

The revelations are a major embarrassment for the Paris criminal police, whose headquarters overlooking the Seine and located near the famed Notre Dame cathedral have been immortalised in several books and films.

The headquarters attracted unwelcome attention in April when two elite French police officers were charged with raping a Canadian tourist there in a case that has sent shock waves across France.

The 34-year-old woman said she was raped in the police headquarters at night. She met the officers during a night of heavy drinking at an Irish pub and agreed to follow them to their workplace.

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1000s march in Marseille in support of Israel

Marseille – Thousands took to the streets of Marseille in the south of France on Sunday to show their support for Israel, the first such demonstration in the country since the start of the recent fighting in Gaza, organisers said.

About 2 000 pro-Israeli demonstrators, carrying French and Israeli flags, were separated by riot police from a few dozen pro-Palestinian protesters chanting anti-Israeli slogans in Marseille’s Old Port in the centre of the Mediterranean city.

“We are here to show our solidarity with Israel, which has been attacked and has a right to defend itself,” William Labi, head of the body governing Jewish congregations in Marseille, told Reuters. The protest was also organised by the community’s umbrella group CRIF.

Pro-Palestinian protesters clashed with police in central Paris on Saturday when thousands of protesters defied a ban by French authorities to rally against Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip. Police made about 70 arrests.

In Marseille, some 2 000 people had marched peacefully on Saturday in an authorised pro-Palestinian demonstration.

France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe and flare-ups in the Middle East have in the past added to tensions between the two communities.

Israel began its offensive earlier this month, citing a surge in rocket attacks launched from Hamas militants in the Gaza strip.

Some 1 031 Palestinians, mainly civilians and including many children, have been killed in the 20-day conflict. Israel says 43 of its soldiers have died, along with three civilians killed by rocket and mortar fire out of the Mediterranean enclave.

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South African Billionaire Patrice Motsepe Pays $1 Million For Picasso Drawing

South African mining tycoon Patrice Motsepe paid $1 million for a Picasso drawing during a charity gala in France on Wednesday.

According to South Africa’s Independent Online, Motsepe, who is South Africa’s first black billionaire with a fortune FORBES estimates at $2.7 billion, paid for the drawing at a fundraising hosted by Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio. The charity event was aimed at raising funds for DiCaprio’s foundation, which aims to protect the environment and endangered species.

The fundraiser took place on Wednesday evening in the Riviera seaside resort of Saint Tropez and was reportedly attended by 500 guests, each of whom had to pay between $7,000 and $130,000 to attend the gala.

The event featured an auction of valuable Hollywood and rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia, such as DiCaprio’s Harley Davidson motorbike which bears signatures of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, and a guitar belonging to U2 lead singer Bono.

Works by British artist Damien Hirst and Pablo Picasso were also on auction. While Russian billionaire Len Blavatnik paid $6 million for a sculpture by Hirst, Motsepe snapped up the Picasso painting for $1 million. At the end of the night, DiCaprio had raised $25 million.

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation was created in 1998 and collaborates with environmental experts to protect biodiversity and support the conservation of forests and oceans.

Motsepe, 52, is the founder and largest shareholder of African Rainbow Minerals, a South African mining company that has interests in platinum, nickel, chrome, iron, manganese, coal, copper and gold.

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France Arrests 2 Women, 2 Men in Terror Probe

Authorities say four French citizens, including two men who spent time in Syria, have been arrested in southern France as part of a terrorism investigation.

The Interior Ministry says two women were among those arrested Tuesday morning in the Gard and Vaucluse regions. It said the four were wanted for questioning by an anti-terrorism judge for alleged criminal association in view of preparing a terror act, without specifying.

The arrests bring to 15 the number of people detained in Europe in less than a week on terror-related suspicions, including eight in Spain, three in Germany, and a wounded Frenchman returning from fighting in Syria.

European authorities are concerned that their citizens who fought with jihadi groups in Syria’s civil war could return home with intentions to carry out terror attacks.

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WINNIE MANDELA TO ATTEND KANYE WEST WEDDING

LOS ANGELES – Kanye West, the controversial hip hop super star, will have a very interesting guest list for his wedding to Kim Kardashian this summer in Paris, France.

Kanye, who asked the brunette beauty to be his wife in front of all her loved ones at AT&T Park in San Francisco on her 33rd birthday last October now plans the big day, which will take place in Paris later this year.

Initially, Kanye the celebrated artist had wanted to have the wedding in a historical mansion for the French Monarchy but was turned down by government. Now he will have it in some other undisclosed location in Paris.

The 36-year-old star has reportedly given his assistants a 600-strong list, which includes Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Jamie Foxx, in addition to the likes of Oprah Winfrey, the Obamas, 12 Years, A Slave star, Lupita Nyong’o, musician Prince, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Karl Lagerfeld.

An insider told American Heat magazine: “The wedding is during the last weekend of the Cannes Film Festival.

“But there’s no limit to Kanye’s ego – he’s expecting everyone to skip Cannes. When his assistants try to explain that some people aren’t going to show, he won’t listen. He’s going to be quite shocked when the day comes and half the names aren’t there.”

Kim has allegedly been the voice of reason and wants a more intimate ceremony.

A source added: “Kim has told him to be realistic. She thinks it’s odd to have strangers there. She wants it intimate – just family and close friends. She’s invited among her close acquaintances, Nicole Richie, Ciara, Blac Chyna, Tyga and Lindsay Lohan.”

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