A huge security operation is being prepared ahead of unity marches in France, as the hunt for a fugitive linked to the Paris massacres took a new twist.
Police have yet to track down Hayat Boumeddiene – the 26-year-old partner of Jewish supermarket terrorist Amedy Coulibaly – who is believed to have fled the country bound for Syria before the three-day slaughter reached a bloody conclusion.
Coulibaly and co-conspirators Said and Cherif Kouachi had been eluding armed detectives ever since the brothers killed 12 people – including two police officers – at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday. Further attacks took the death toll to 20, when the three terrorists were fatally gunned down as the crisis drew to a dramatic climax last night.
Amid the mourning, stories of triumph and heroism have emerged, with tales of a Muslim man helping Jewish supermarket customers to safety, while the boss of a printing works commandeered by the Kouachis aided a colleague who would later offer crucial evidence to armed officers poised outside.
Additional police were tonight braced for tomorrow’s Paris rally, described as a “cry for freedom”, as David Cameron joins politicians and supporters from across the globe in a show of unity.
Mr Cameron’s French counterpart Manual Valls said the country remained on high alert this weekend, while French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a total of 1,350 military personnel and 2,000 police would be deployed at the rally. Crowds of up to 1 million are expected.
He said: “The Home Office at the request of the President and the Prime Minister will take exceptional measures in order to ensure the security of this rally and respect of public order.
“There will be some sharp-shooters on the roofs. The roofs and drains will be inspected in advance, there will be 56 teams of bike riders who will escort the personalities.”
The hunt for Boumeddiene, France’s most wanted woman, continues while intelligence officers are working to establish the background to the synchronised strikes which terrorised the capital.
Prosecutors said there were some 500 calls made between the lovers and the Kouachis.
The brothers were eventually cornered at the printing works about 30 miles outside Paris in Dammartin-en-Goele, where they took one man hostage.
But unknown to the terrorists, another man – Lilian Lepere – was hiding underneath a sink in the building, helping direct the police to the killers using his mobile phone.
His boss Michel Catalano said he expected to die last night, and told how he was “terrified” throughout the ordeal that the brothers would discover the hidden worker.
He said: “I could immediately see there was a situation of danger. I told my employee to hide. I knew two of us couldn’t hide.
“At that point I thought that was the end. They came in, they weren’t aggressive. They said ’don’t worry, we just want to come in’.”
He offered the intruders a drink and made coffee for them before one of his suppliers arrived at around 9am.
“I didn’t know where Lilian was hidden. I knew he was hidden but I had no idea where. I didn’t want them to go to the end of the building.
“I must admit that in fact they (the brothers) weren’t aggressive as far as I was concerned.
“I didn’t get the impression they would harm me, as unbelievable as it sounds. Perhaps they had an ounce of humanity because they let me out.”
Another man, Lassana Bathily, was hailed a hero for his role in hiding hostages as they sought refuge from killer Coulibaly at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes.
Mr Bathily, originally from Mali in west Africa, is said to have shepherded terrified customers to safety in a chiller as the Islamic gunman – the main suspect in the fatal shooting of a policewoman a day earlier in the Parisian suburb of Montrouge – executed four of the 19 hostages before police stormed the building. They have been named by French Jewish organisation Crif as Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen and Francois-Michel Saada.
Armed officers were able to hear what was happening inside through a telephone left off the hook.
Extracts of Coulibaly ranting at hostages in the kosher store emerged this morning.
According to RTL, Coulibaly railed against the French state and mocked his hostages for paying taxes.
Meanwhile Malik Merabet – whose police officer brother Ahmed Merabet was executed by the Kouachis on Wednesday – pleaded for unity, saying Islam must not be conflated with extremism.
During an emotional news conference the brother also broke down when asked about graphic images of the police officer lying injured on a pavement in surrender before one of the gunmen shot him dead at close range.
A range of London landmarks are tomorrow due to have an image of the Tricolore beamed on to them in a show of unity with the French.