Leaders from around the world Sunday joined hundreds of thousands of marchers in Paris for a rally in a show of solidarity after a series of deadly terror attacks rocked the country.
Some 77 foreign delegates were slated to attend the event, including 44 heads of state, according to French station BFM, among them British Prime Minister David Cameron, German President Angela Merkel, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Jane Hartley, the American Ambassador to France, represented the United States.
“It is a war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in a speech on Saturday.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was in Paris to discuss the attacks, pledged America’s cooperation against terrorists who “use a corrupted version of Islam to justify their actions” in an interview with NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday. A Justice Department official told NBC News that Holder’s schedule, which included interviews with four of America’s five major Sunday news shows, did not allow him to participate in the rally.
Crowds chanted “Qui vous etes? Charlie!” (Who are you? Charlie!) on Sunday as they made their way through Place de la Republique in Paris, many waving French flags. Attendees raised a giant pencil, an image that’s become a symbol of free expression in the wake of the murders. Similar rallies took place in towns and cities through the country. French media estimated Paris turnout may have been as high as 1.5 million and Agence France-Presse reported the number could be as high as 3.3 million nationally. More than 141,000 people had indicated on Facebook that they planned to attend the main Unity rally.
French residents have taken to the streets through the last week in a show of solidarity after three masked gunmen killed 12 people on Wednesday in Paris at the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper that had published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Among the dead were Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, and a policeman, Ahmed Merabe, who responded to the attacks. One suspect turned himself in, but the violence continued with a series of follow-up attacks. On Thursday, a policewoman was fatally shot in an attack authorities believe was linked to the Hebdo killing.
On Friday, another gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, killed four people during a hostage standoff at a kosher grocery store and two brothers implicated in the Charlie Hebdo attack, Cherif and Said Kouachi, took a hostage at a printing facility. French commandos killed all three attackers in simultaneous raids. Authorities believe Coulibaly was behind an earlier shooting the same week targeting a 32-year old female jogger, who was wounded in the attack. French police are still searching for a suspected female accomplice, 26-year-old Hayat Boummeddiene.
French President Francois Hollande sought to reassure France’s Jewish community, where leaders have warned of escalating anti-Semitic violence over the last year, that authorities were on guard. According to Le Figaro, Hollande’s schedule today will include a visit to the Grand Synagogue of Paris, where Shabbos services were canceled on Friday in the wake of the supermarket killings.
“We told him of our distress and our anger. We raised a number of urgent measures to undertake” Roger Cukierman, president of CRIF, the umbrella organization for Jewish associations, told Le Figaro after a meeting with Hollande. “The French president told us that all the schools, all the synagogues would be protected if necessary by even more than the police, the army.”
Funerals for the four supermarket victims, all of whom were Jewish, are set to take place in Israel on Tuesday with top Israeli officials overseeing the arrangements.