PARIS — France deployed 10,000 troops at Jewish schools, synagogues and other sites in an unprecedented security boost Monday as authorities remained on high alert after last week’s deadly attacks in Paris.
The extraordinary measures marked the first time such a large military force in France has been used in civilian protection, and brought the latest images of troops on Western streets — scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of 9/11 and later European attacks in London and Madrid.
It also underscored the deep concerns about the possible risks of more strikes even as officials probe the roots of last week’s attacks by suspected Islamist militants.
“It’s the first time in the history of France” that the army has been used in such a way, said army Col. Benoit Brulen, who arrived with three soldiers at a Jewish school and synagogue in the city’s 11th arrondissement — not far from the satirical newspaper where the days of bloodshed began last week.
“But it’s an indication of the level of menace we face,” he said.
Dozens of top dignitaries joined hundreds of thousands of people in the French capital Sunday to pay tribute to the victims of last week’s attacks in Paris that killed 17 people. (Reuters)
The decision to use military forces was made after French President Francois Hollande convened an emergency meeting amid burning questions over how Islamist militants — known to the French authorities — managed to carry out the worst terrorist attacks in France in decades.
A total of 17 people died over four days of bloodshed that included a dozen dead at the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, the slaying of a policewoman and an armed hostage-taking at a kosher market.
The wave of violence stunned France, but also brought stirring displays of unity and resolve that culminated with at least 1.5 million people gathered in Paris on Sunday.
All three attackers also died Friday in nearly simultaneous raids by security forces.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the deployment will be fully in place by Tuesday. Nearly half of the soldiers — about 4,700 — will be assigned to protect France’s 717 Jewish schools, officials said.
Inside the school in the 11th arrondissement, teachers said the children, as young as 2, asked why they were greeted by soldiers as they entered the building’s heavy metal gates.
“I’m glad the soldiers are here. But the fact they’re here means something is very wrong,” said the school’s director, Elisabeth Atthar. “We’d all prefer to live freely.”
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said security forces were hunting for a “probable” accomplice to the attacks, but gave no further details.
Hayat Boumedienne, a woman linked to the one of the perpetrators, apparently left France days before the attacks and crossed into Syria from Turkey on Thursday, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, told the state-run Anadolu Agency.
Valls told France’s BFM television that France is at war against “terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam.”
The major security build-up around Jewish sites also comes after some Israeli leaders urged European Jews — and, in particular, those in France — to move to Israel in the face of growing anti-Semitism.
About 500,000 Jews live in France in one of the Europe’s largest communities. At the same time, France’s rising Muslim population is the biggest in Western Europe.
Although acts of direct violence against Jewish sites in France is relatively rare, some Jews express a growing unease over signs such as anti-Semitic graffiti and perceived intolerance from ultra-nationalist groups.
The Jewish victims of the supermarket attack will be buried in Israel this week.
This is the beginning of the end for us,” said David, a hotel manager who did not want his last name printed for fear of retribution.
He kept his three young children home from their Jewish school last Friday, and was contemplating a more permanent change: a move to Israel.
As he spoke, his wife called. “She wanted to go to the store to buy eggs, and wanted to know if it was safe to go out,” David sad.
Only a day earlier, however, the country came together in an historic show of multi-cultural solidarity and resilience against fanaticism and terror.
After a barrage of violence that traumatized the nation, the boulevards of Paris produced a striking counterimage Sunday: Hollande, arm in arm with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and a host of European and African leaders.
Noticeably absent were prominent American officials, bringing sharp criticism against Washington. The U.S. ambassador to France and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland attended the march.
On Monday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said he could not cancel planned talks in India to attend the Paris rally. But Kerry said he will travel to Paris this week to show solidarity.
U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who also was in Paris for a security conference, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the prospect of “lone wolf” terrorist attacks in the United States “frankly, keeps me up at night.”
An estimated 4 million people nationwide — more than a third of them in Paris — joined the rallies. Sister demonstrations of support erupted from the West Bank to Sydney to Washington.
“Paris is the capital of the world today,” Hollande said.
Crushing throngs filled the streets with the red, white and blue of the French flag as tearful relativesof the fallen walked in a place of honor on a symbolic 2.1-mile path from the Place de la Republique to the Place de la Nation.
A group of Muslims threw white roses from the sidewalks. “Marchers carried a monumental Marianne, the symbol of France and personification of liberty and reason, her robes floating above the crowd.”
Participants purposely marched down the Boulevard Voltaire, the nom de plume of the philosopher of the French Enlightenment who advocated religious tolerance and freedom of expression. It was, many here said, a pushback against religious extremism in a nation that puts secularism first.
“We are here to show that we are not afraid, that we are all French and that we will not be defeated by fear,” said Patrick Bidegaray, a 32-year-old corporate consultant and self-described atheist who attended the march with nine friends, including Christians, Muslims and Jews. “They want to divide us, but we are France. We are the republic, first before everything. We are the republic. Today, we are one.”
The Islamic State championed a video that emerged Sunday in which one of the assailants — Amedy Coulibaly, a 32-year-old of Malian descent — pledges allegiance to the group and claims to have carried out the first attack in the West explicitly in the group’s name.
Coulibaly — the only son among 10 children and a petty thief once charged with drug trafficking — shot a policewoman Thursday before taking hostages in a kosher market on Friday and killing four before losing his own life in a police raid. Police killed the two other attackers — brothers Chérif Kouachi and Said Kouachi — on Friday outside a printing plant 26 miles north of Paris, where they had made a last stand.
Yet in the aftermath of the attack, France faces other challenges, too, chiefly growing anti-Semitism and the possibility of a backlash against the Muslim community by the far right.
On Sunday, however, the far-right National Front — which won 25 percent of the vote in last year’s local elections and which was purposely snubbed by organizers of the Paris march — failed to draw mass crowds of its own. Roughly 440 miles south of Paris in the city of Beaucaire, Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s leader, held a modest rally of fewer than 1,000 under a banner denouncing “Islamist terrorism.” Some bystanders heckled and booed her.
At Paris’s Grand Synagogue on Sunday, 17 candles were lit for the 17 victims. “Why do we always have to be united by tears?” said France’s chief rabbi, Haïm Korsia.
By Anthony Faiola, Griff Witte and Daniela Deane (Washington Post)
Deane reported from London. Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.
Anthony Faiola is The Post’s Berlin bureau chief. Faiola joined the Post in 1994, since then reporting for the paper from six continents and serving as bureau chief in Tokyo, Buenos Aires, New York and London.
Griff Witte is The Post’s London bureau chief. He previously served as the paper’s deputy foreign editor and as the bureau chief in Kabul, Islamabad and Jerusalem.
Daniela Deane was a reporter in four countries in Europe and Asia and a foreign affairs writer in Washington before she joined the Post. She now writes about breaking foreign news from both London and Rome.