Police hunt 'accomplice' after Paris attacks

Hayat Boumeddiene, "armed and dangerous", reportedly outside France, amid plans to hold unity march in the capital.

    French police are searching for a suspected female accomplice of the men behind deadly attacks on a satirical magazine and a kosher supermarket, amid plans for a large street march in Paris.

    Hundreds of troops were deployed around Paris on Saturday, tightening security on the eve of the march which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks.

    Security levels were kept at France's highest level for Hayat Boumeddiene, the partner of Amedy Coulibaly, who laid siege to the Jewish supermarket and was one of the three attackers killed on Friday.

    Boumeddiene, 26, described as "armed and dangerous", remained on the loose, police said. 

    Al Jazeera's Rory Challands, reporting from Paris, said some media outlets were reporting that Boumeddiene might have left the country and travelled to Turkey last week.

    Hayat Boumeddiene (L) and Amedy Coulibaly (R) [AFP]

    However, French authorities have yet to confirm the reports.

    Boumeddiene has never been convicted of a crime, French officials say, but judicial records obtained by Associated Press news agency indicate she was known to French internal security services, and once posed for a photo in her Islamic veil and holding a crossbow.

    The records show that she was also once interrogated by French officials about her reaction to assaults committed by al-Qaeda.

    "I don't have any opinion," she answered, according to the records, but immediately added that innocent people were being killed by the Americans and needed to be defended, and that information provided by the media was suspect.

    In the deadliest attack in France in decades, 17 people lost their lives in three days of violence that began with an an assault on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday and ended with Friday's dual hostage-taking at a print works outside Paris and a Jewish supermarket in the city.

    French security forces killed Said and Cherif Kouachi, the brothers behind the 12 magazine killings, after they took refuge in the print works.

    Police also killed Coulibaly, an associate of the one of the Kouachi brothers, after he planted explosives at the supermarket in a siege that claimed the lives of four hostages.

    AQAP claims attack

    Earlier, al-Qaeda's Yemeni branch claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo killings, saying the shooting was an operation to teach the French the limits of freedom of expression.

    Harith al-Nadhari, a senior member of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), made the claim in an audio recording published online late on Friday.

    "Some French were not polite with the prophets and that was the reason why a few of the believers, who loved Allah and his prophet and loved martyrdom, went to them to teach them how to behave and how to be polite with the prophets and to teach them that the freedom of expression has limits and boundaries," Nadhari said in the recording.

    He also warned France it would not enjoy security unless it stopped what he called a "war" on Islam.

    Why do images of the prophet offend Muslims?

    In recent years, Charlie Hebdo had drawn repeated threats for publishing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad among other controversial sketches.

    In Islam, depiction of the prophet is blasphemous and caricatures or other characterisations have provoked protests across the Islamic world.

    Cherif Kouachi, one of the attackers, claimed to have been trained and financed by al-Qaeda in Yemen. 

    Yemeni intelligence officials confirmed to Al Jazeera that Cherif's brother, Said had also been in Yemen in 2011, fighting with al-Qaeda, and had been deported.

    If confirmed, the attack would be the first time AQAP has successfully carried out an operation in the West after at least two earlier attempts.

    The group is considered the most active and dangerous branch of al-Qaeda.

    Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh, reporting from the Yemeni capital Sanaa, said AQAP had previously made attempts to attract supporters in the West, including by launching an online magazine.

    It has also called on individuals to carry out attacks independently - referred to as "lone wolf" attacks.

    AQAP orchestrated the December 2009 attempt to bomb an American passenger jet over Detroit in which Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed to detonate explosives.

    In 2010, the group attempted to send bombs in packages to be delivered to targets in the US, but the packages were intercepted on flights through Europe and the Gulf.

    Unity march planned

    Against this backdrop, French President Francois Hollande said he would attend Sunday's planned unity march in Paris, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people as well as the leaders of countries Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain.

    Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee, reporting from Paris, said 36 individual demonstrations were due to be held in cities and towns across the country in support of the "ideals of the French Republic" and in commemoration of the victims.

    Arab League representatives and some Muslim African leaders as well as Turkey's prime minister will also attend.

    Bernard Cazeneuve, France's interior minister, said after an emergency security meeting on Saturday that the government was deploying hundreds of troops in addition to thousands of police and other security forces. 

    As Paris remained on high alert, questions were raised over how the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly had slipped through the security net after it emerged they were all known to the intelligence agencies.

    The two brothers had been on a US "terror watch list" and Cherif was convicted in 2008 for involvement in a network sending fighters to Iraq. 

    The killings of Charlie Hebdo staff has elicited global condemnation.

    The Kouachi brothers - who are they?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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