Unity against extremism is the rallying cry for the hundreds of thousands expected to attend the gathering, including the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president. Hours before the rally was to start, France’s enormous Republique plaza began to fill with people.
“We are all Charlie, we are all police, we are all Jews of France,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared on Saturday, referring to the victims that included employees at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, shoppers at a kosher grocery and two police officers.
The three days of terror began Wednesday when a pair of masked gunmen stormed the newsroom of the satirical newspaper, killing 12 people. Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen said it directed the attack to avenge the honor of the Prophet Muhammad, a frequent target of the weekly’s satire. On Thursday, a separate gunman killed a policewoman on the outskirts of Paris and on Friday, the attackers converged.
With the brothers who stormed Charlie Hebdo holed up in a printing plant near Charles de Gaulle airport, the third gunman seized hostages inside a kosher market. It all ended at dusk Friday with near-simultaneous raids at the printing plant and the market that left all three gunmen dead. Four hostages at the market were also killed.
“I hope that at the end of the day everyone is united. Everyone, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists,” said one attendee, who was at Republique early Sunday. “We are humans first of all. And nobody deserves to be murdered like that. Nobody.”
It was France’s deadliest terrorist attack in decades, and the country remains on high alert while investigators determine whether the attackers were part of a larger extremist network. More than 2,000 police are being deployed on Sunday to protect the crowds, in addition to the tens of thousands already guarding synagogues, mosques, schools and other sites around France.
“It’s not the end for us, it’s not the end,” said Christophe Crepin, spokesman for UNSA police union. “I think we have turned a page, a bit like before Sept. 11 and after Sept. 11.”
At an international conference in India, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the world stood with the people of France.
“And we stand together not just in anger and in outrage, but in solidarity and commitment to the cause of confronting extremism and in the cause that extremists fear so much and that has always united our countries: freedom,” Kerry said.