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Vigilance call after France attacks

France's government urged the nation to remain vigilant today as security forces try to thwart new attacks and hunt down a suspected accomplice in a rampage by terrorists linked to al-Qaeda that left 20 dead.

Three attackers were among those killed after three days of bloodshed at the offices of a satirical newspaper, a kosher supermarket and other sites around Paris.

Security forces are deployed around the capital, guarding places of worship and tourist sites, and preparing for what is likely to be a huge demonstration tomorrow to show unity against extremists.

World leaders including Germany's Angela Merkel and Britain's David Cameron are among the many expected to join.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve insisted today that authorities will do everything to ensure security at the event.

Speaking after an emergency security meeting called by French President Francois Hollande, he called for "extreme vigilance," saying that "given the context, we are exposed to risks".

Mr Cazeneuve said the government is deploying hundreds of troops in addition to thousands of police and other security forces, and maintaining its terror alert system at the highest level in the Paris region.

He said investigators are focusing on determining whether the attackers were part of a larger extremist network.

Five people are in custody as part of the investigation and family members of the attackers are among several given preliminary charges so far.

Al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen said it directed Wednesday's attack against the publication Charlie Hebdo to avenge the honour of the Prophet Muhammad, a frequent target of the weekly's satire.

The two brothers behind that attack, Said and Cherif Kouachi, were known to authorities: One had a terrorism-related conviction for ties to a network sending fighters to battle American forces in Iraq, and both were on the US no-fly list.

French radio RTL released audio footage today of the attacker who seized hostages in the kosher supermarket, Amedy Coulibaly, in which he lashes out over western military campaigns against extremists in Syria and Mali. He describes Osama bin Laden as an inspiration.

Coulibaly's common law wife, Hayat Boumeddiene, remains at large. Police named her as an accomplice and think she is armed.

"You must consider her as the companion of a dangerous terrorist who needs to be questioned," Christophe Crepin, spokesman for UNSA police union, told The Associated Press.

"Since 2010, she has had a relationship with an individual whose ideology translates into violence and the execution of poor people who were just doing their shopping in a supermarket."

This week's drama, which played out on live TV and social media, began with the Kouachi brothers massacring 12 people on Wednesday at the Charlie Hebdo offices before fleeing.

They eluded police for two days, robbing a petrol station and stealing a car.

Cherif Kouachi was wounded in the throat by police at one point, the Paris prosecutor said, but the brothers got away.

They went on to take a hostage at a printing house in Dammartin-en-Goele near Charles de Gaulle Airport yesterday, prompting a day-long stand-off with police.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Coulibaly shot a policewoman to death south of Paris. He, too, fled. Police later determined he was linked to the Kouachi brothers.

Then, yesterday, he attacked the Paris kosher market, killing four hostages and threatening more violence unless the police let the Kouachis go.

It all ended at dusk last night with near-simultaneous raids at the printing plant and the kosher market in eastern Paris.

As scores of black-clad security forces surrounded both sites, booming explosions, heavy gunfire and dense smoke heralded the news that the twin sieges had ended.

The three gunmen were dead - but the authorities also discovered four dead hostages at the market. Sixteen hostages were freed, one from the printing plant and 15 from the store.

A member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula gave a statement in English to The Associated Press saying the group's leadership "directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully".

The attack on the kosher market came before sundown on the Jewish Sabbath, when the store would have been crowded with shoppers, and Mr Hollande called it "a terrifying anti-Semitic act".

According to a Yemeni security official, Said Kouachi is suspected of having fought for al-Qaeda in Yemen. Another senior security official added that Said was in Yemen until 2012.

The attacks in France, as well as a hostage siege last month in Sydney and the October killing of a solder near Canada's parliament, prompted the US State Department to issue a global travel warning for Americans.

It also cited an increased risk of reprisals against US and Western targets for the US-led intervention against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

The publication Charlie Hebdo had long drawn threats for its depictions of Islam, although it also lampooned other religions and political figures.

Charlie Hebdo plans a special edition next week, produced in the offices of another paper.

A Turkish intelligence official said authorities believe the common law wife of one of the gunmen behind the attacks in France came through Turkey days before the attacks and may have crossed into Syria.

The official said that a woman by the same name of the common law wife of Coulibaly flew to Istanbul on January 2.

The official said the woman resembled a widely distributed photo of Hayat Boumeddiene. Turkish authorities believe she travelled to the Turkish city of Sanliurfa near the Syrian border on January 4. The official said "she then disappeared".


From Belfast Telegraph