The sound of firecrackers outside a Paris synagogue were mistaken for gunshots on Saturday, according to French news sources, signaling a community that is still on edge from a brutal terror attack. As makeshift memorials of flowers and candles appeared around a bullet-hole riddled Kosher grocery store where four hostages were found dead before the gunman was killed, France seemed to be in recovery — but the wild manhunt for suspects is not yet over.
Pockets of Paris were at a standstill Saturday while the fourth — and suspected final — assailant linked to a string of brutally violent attacks remained at large. French authorities are still seeking to bring an end to the now four-day episode and restore a sense of security for a community battered by the gruesome ordeal. But the sense of high alert amid mourning was captured in an ominous warning from President Francois Hollande that France was “not finished with the threats.”
Police authorities on Saturday continued to search for a 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, reported to be the wife of one of three dead gunmen, in connection to the shooting that have claimed the lives of as many as 17 innocent people. The string of violence is the worst terrorist attack on French soil in generations. Officials believe terrorists linked to al-Qaida in Yemen carried out the rampage of shoot-outs and hostage-takings. Their victims — from satirical cartoonists to innocent shoppers at a Kosher grocery store — were part of a plan to send a murderous message aimed at freedom of the press, one of the core tenants of democracy. And without full closure to the ordeal, France entered the weekend bruised and on edge.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned the violence Saturday as attacks on freedom. President François Hollande chaired an emergency security meeting early in the day in efforts to thwart any future attacks while top leaders issued warnings for all of Europe to remain on high alert. In light of the terror threat, heightened security measures rippled throughout the globe. Overnight, authorities from Canada to Australia arrested terror suspects in separate raids, though there was no apparent connection to the attacks in France. In Paris, a prosecutor announced that authorities brought in 16 people for questioning, five of whom were family members of the Kouachi brothers, reported Le Figaro and Le Parisien on Saturday. French media also reported that the five were released, and among them was the wife of Chérif Kouachi, a younger brother, and an 18-year-old brother-in-law who had turned himself into authorities previously.
The gruesome ordeal has left much of Paris frozen, particularly with the region’s Jewish community roiling over the anti-Semitic nature of the recent attacks. Paris’ iconic Grand Shul closed Shabbat services for the first time since the Nazis occupied Europe. Police were called to the scene outside a synagogue Saturday after parishioners mistook firecrackers for gunshots. The victims killed in a hostage situation at the Kosher grocery story were Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Attab, and François-Michel Saada, reported Le Figaro. Valls confirmed that the four dead were Jewish citizens.
The terror that has plagued the country began on Wednesday as two masked gunman stormed the office of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The publication’s editor and prominent cartoonists were among those targeted. The weekly periodical has long been the subject of threats for its pillorying of religion, including Islam, and for its depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, which some believe to be prohibited by the Quran. Twelve people were slain in the initial attack. The next day, a policewoman was shot and killed in a suburb outside Paris; a street sweeper was injured. A massive manhunt ensued, with police chasing after two sets of assailants. One standoff ended at a print shop outside Paris. The other involved a dramatic hostage-taking outside of a Kosher supermarket.
Ultimately three suspects, identified by French authorities as Amedy Coulibaly; and brothers Chérif Kouachi and Säid Kouachi, were killed in the separate standoffs with police.
Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, a well-known and recently retired counterterrorism judge in Paris told NBC News that Boumeddiene could still be a threat because she “is a widow of a martyr.”
“She is very dangerous because she has to follow,” Bruguière told NBC.
Amid shock and outrage, though, came solidarity from around the world. Many in the region greeted the weekend with a sigh of relief that the suspected leaders behind the bloody rampage were dead. And rather than be silenced by the attacks — which began as an assault on free speech and ended in anti-Semitic killings — crowds gathered throughout France in a show of unity.
Tens of thousands marched in solidarity in Nice, Pau, Pyrenee-Atlantique and Orleans. Meanwhile scores of artists defended the freedom of expression, including the legendary creator of the French cartoon “Asterix,” 87-year-old Albert Uderzo, who came out of retirement to illustrate his support.
But with Boumeddiene still at large, there are still unanswered questions facing a community that seeking closure.