PARIS (AFP) - French President Francois Hollande said Thursday that Muslims were the “main victims” of fanaticism, as five of the 17 killed in last week’s Islamic extremist attacks in Paris were laid to rest.
Speaking at the Arab World Institute in Paris, Hollande said: “It is Muslims who are the main victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism and intolerance", adding the whole country was “united in the face of terrorism.”
The Muslim community in France, Europe’s largest, have “the same rights and the same duties as all citizens” and must be protected, he added.
The five burials included those of two of Charlie Hebdo’s best-known cartoonists, as the satirical magazine continued to fly off the shelves, sparking fury in some parts of the Muslim world for depicting the Prophet Muhammad on its cover.
Georges Wolinski, 80, and Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac, 57, were buried at private family funerals after they were gunned down by two Islamist brothers in last week’s attack claimed by Al-Qaeda.
After the shooting at the magazine, which killed 12 people, the French rushed to get their hands on the “survivors’ issue” which sold out Wednesday before more copies of an eventual print run of five million hit newsstands. Long queues formed throughout the country again on Thursday as copies again quickly ran out.
“Charlie Hebdo is alive and will live on,” Hollande said Wednesday. “You can murder men and women, but you can never kill their ideas,” he said, declaring the previously struggling weekly “reborn”.
The Charlie Hebdo assault on January 7 was followed two days later by an attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris by a gunman claiming to have coordinated his actions with brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi. In all, 17 people died over three days in the bloodiest attacks in France in half a century, which ended when commando units stormed two hostage sieges and killed all three gunmen.
In Wednesday’s new edition of Charlie Hebdo, the prophet is depicted with a tear in his eye, under the headline “All is forgiven”. He holds a sign reading “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), the slogan that has become a global rallying cry for those expressing sympathy for the victims and support for freedom of speech.
Meanwhile debate was mounting in France over where freedom of expression begins and ends. Millions rallied in support of free speech after the assault, while French prosecutors, under government orders to crack down on hate crimes, have opened more than 50 cases for condoning terrorism or making threats to carry out terrorist acts since the attack.
They include one against controversial comedian Dieudonne, who was arrested Wednesday over a remark suggesting he sympathised with one of the Paris attackers and will stand trial.
- Al Qaeda’s ‘vengeance’ -
The cover of the new Charlie Hebdo has sparked controversy and protests in some parts of the Muslim world, where many find the depiction of the prophet highly offensive.
Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, where the Kouachi brothers are known to have trained, released a video Wednesday claiming responsibility for the attack, saying it was “vengeance” for the magazine’s cartoons of the prophet.
Amedy Coulibaly, who shot dead four Jewish men at a kosher supermarket in Paris and a policewoman the day before in attacks he said were coordinated with the Kouachi brothers, has claimed links to the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) group.
The Afghan Taleban on Thursday condemned Charlie Hebdo’s publication of further Prophet Muhammad cartoons and praised the gunmen, saying they were “bringing the perpetrators of the obscene act to justice”.
Angry opponents in countries from Pakistan and Turkey to the Philippines and Mauritania have staged protests over the new cartoons. A Turkish court ordered a block on websites featuring images of the cover, while Senegal said it was banning the distribution of Wednesday’s editions of Charlie Hebdo and the French daily Liberation, which also put a cartoon of the prophet on the front page.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday described the cover as a “grave provocation”. “Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to insult,” Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara.
But many have taken a nuanced stance and tried to calm tensions, with French Muslim leaders urging their communities – which have been targeted with attacks on mosques in the wake of the shootings – to “stay calm and avoid emotive reactions”.
France continued to receive support from its Western allies, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowing that their two countries would “stand together in these difficult days.” US Secretary of State John Kerry, a francophile who will fly into the French capital later Thursday to pay his respects to the dead, said he wanted to give Paris a “big hug.”
Kerry’s visit comes after the White House was forced into an embarrassing admission that they should have sent a more high-profile representative to the Paris march against terrorism which drew a record crowd of 1.5 million and dozens of world leaders.
- ‘With one voice’ -
A shell-shocked France has deployed armed police to protect synagogues and Jewish schools and called up 10,000 troops to guard against other attacks.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls has admitted France’s intelligence capabilities and anti-terrorism laws needed to be strengthened and “clear failings” addressed. The three gunmen were known to French intelligence and on a US terror watch list “for years”.
Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws reported that Coulibaly bought weapons – including assault rifles and a rocket launcher – near the Gare du Midi station in Brussels for less than 5,000 euros (S$7,793).
British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama meanwhile vowed a united front against Islamic extremists in a joint article in The Times newspaper, published on the eve of a visit by Cameron to Washington. “We will continue to stand together against those who threaten our values and our way of life,” the two leaders wrote.
“When the freedoms that we treasure came under a brutal attack in Paris, the world responded with one voice.”