France’s government urged the nation to remain vigilant Saturday, as thousands of security forces try to thwart new attacks and hunt down a suspected accomplice in a rampage by terrorists linked to al-Qaida in Yemen that scarred the nation and left 20 dead.
Key members of the French government met today, focusing on heightened measures aimed at thwarting terrorist attacks in Paris such as the massacre of 12 people at a satirical newspaper and a supermarket siege that left four hostages dead.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, speaking after Saturday’s emergency security meeting, called for “extreme vigilance,” saying that “given the context, we are exposed to risks.”
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 focused on determining whether the attackers were part of a larger extremist network.
The three-day wave of violence culminated in concurrent standoffs Friday – one at a Paris kosher market, the other at a printing company in the town of Dammartin-en-Goele, 20 miles northeast of Paris.
At the printing company, police killed Said and Cherif Kouachi, suspected in Wednesday’s Charlie Hebdo massacre, after authorities say the brothers came out of the building with guns blazing.
Meanwhile, at least four explosions and a barrage of gunfire could be heard at the market in the Porte de Vincennes area of Paris, after which police were seen going in. Amedy Coulibaly, 32, a suspect in a Thursday fatal shooting of a police officer, was identified by police as the hostage taker at the grocery.
While Coulibaly was killed, authorities are continuing to search for his common law wife, Hayat Boumeddiene. The two simultaneous standoffs were linked, with suspected gunmen in each situation connected through an earlier attempt to break a convicted terrorist out of jail, Paris’ public prosecutor told ABC News. Coulibaly was convicted for his involvement in a previous attempt to help a convicted terrorist escape custody, while Cherif Kouachi was released. The man they were accused of trying to free from prison was Smain Ali Belkacem, one of those behind the 1995 attack on the Paris transport system that killed eight people and wounded 120, according to the Paris public prosecutor.
An al Qaeda affiliate later claimed responsibility for the deadly attack at Charlie Hebdo, claiming the murders were in response to “blasphemy.”
“The leadership of AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully,” a statement from the group says, according to The Associated Press. The statement went on to say the attack was to “revenge the honor” of the Prophet Muhammad.