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Hollande tackles religious tensions

French president Francois Hollande has insisted that any anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic acts must be "severely punished" as he sought to calm rising religious tensions after his country's bloodiest terrorist attacks in decades.

With 120,000 security forces deployed to prevent future attacks, nerves jumped overnight when a car rammed into a policewoman guarding the president's palace.

The incident at the Elysee Palace had no apparent links to last week's shootings and might have been an accident, prosecutors and police said.

The country is tense since 20 people, including three gunmen, were killed in last week's rampage.

It began at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which is burying several staff members today. Charlie Hebdo had been repeatedly threatened over its caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

Two of the attackers claimed allegiances to al Qaida in Yemen and another - who targeted a kosher supermarket - to the Islamic State group.

The attacks occurred in an atmosphere of rising anti-Semitism in France and have prompted scattered attacks on Muslim sites around France in an apparent backlash. They have also put many French Muslims on the defensive.

Mr Hollande said in a speech that France's millions of Muslims should be protected and respected, "just as they themselves should respect the nation" and its strictly secular values.

"Anti-Muslim acts, like anti-Semitism, should not just be denounced but severely punished," Mr Hollande said at the Institute of the Arab World in Paris.

Noting that Muslims are the main victims of Islamic extremist violence, he said: "In the face of terrorism, we are all united."

At his office overnight, a car carrying four people took a one-way street in the wrong direction then drove off when the police officer tried to stop them. The officer sustained slight leg injuries, police said. Two people were later arrested, and two others in the car fled.

US and French intelligence officials are leaning towards an assessment that the Paris terror attacks were inspired by al Qaida but not directly supervised by the group, a view that would put the violence in a category of homegrown incidents that are extremely difficult to detect and thwart.

French justice officials began cracking down by arresting dozens of people who glorified terrorism or made racist or anti-Semitic remarks.

Customers lined up again today to try to get copies of Charlie Hebdo's first edition since the attacks, which again had Mohammed on the cover. Even though it has a special increased print run of five million copies, it sold out before dawn in Paris kiosks for a second day running.

Muslims believe their faith forbids depictions of the prophet and some reacted with dismay - and occasional anger - to the new cover. Some who had supported Charlie Hebdo after the attacks felt betrayed and others feared the cartoon would trigger yet more violence.

A leader of Yemen's al Qaida branch officially claimed responsibility for the attacks by two gunmen that left 12 dead at the weekly publication, saying in a video posted online that the killings were in "vengeance for the prophet".

About 19,000 French websites have suffered cyber attacks in the days since the rampage by Islamic extremists, France's top cyber defence official said.

Adm Arnaud Coustilliere told reporters that many of the cyber attacks were carried out by "more or less structured" groups, including some well-known Islamic hacker groups.

The attacks appeared to involve primarily relatively minor denial-of-service attacks. He said they have hit sites representing sectors from military regiments to pizza shops.


From Belfast Telegraph