PARIS – A year after a million and a half people thronged Paris in solidarity with the victims of the attack on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, the few thousand who attended the anniversary ceremony vowed France would not be intimidated.
After submitting to two security checks to get into the Place de la Republique for the event, many said they had been determined to attend despite a lingering sense of fear after France was repeatedly targeted by jihadis in 2015.
“It’s a little scary to live under a state of emergency,” said Jacques Clayeux, a 54-year-old museum technician.
But Katelyn Kiner, a 20-year-old student from Chicago, said she was determined to overcome her fear. “Every time I go out it’s in direct defiance (saying) ‘I’m not going to let those evil men take away my lifestyle — it means too much to me,’ ” she said.
Twelve people were killed in the Jan. 7, 2015, assault on Charlie Hebdo, which had been in the jihadis’ sights since publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006.
The next day, another extremist, Amedy Coulibaly, shot dead a policewoman and went on to kill four people at a Jewish supermarket.
Sunday’s event was also dedicated to the victims of the Nov. 13 jihadi rampage across Paris targeting ordinary people enjoying a night out, which left 130 dead.
New violence Thursday added to the jitters when a Tunisian man was shot dead by police as he approached a Paris police station wielding a meat cleaver and a fake explosives vest, on the exact anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attack.
He was carrying a handwritten letter claiming he was acting in the name of the Islamic State group.
“What happened on Thursday brought it all back,” said Kiner.
The thwarted attack underlined official concerns that another terror assault remains highly likely in France.
After presiding over Sunday’s ceremony, French President Francois Hollande made an unannounced visit to the main Paris mosque for “a moment of friendship and fraternity over a cup of tea,” a presidency official said.
Mosques across France opened their doors to the public this weekend in a bid by the Muslim community to build bridges following the attacks.
Hollande responded to the November massacre by vowing to crush Islamic State, and French jets have been bombing the group in Syria and Iraq.
Sunday’s understated event was a far cry from Jan. 11, 2015, when 4 million citizens rallied across France, in the biggest mass demonstrations since the end of World War II.
The outpouring of support for freedom of expression at the time was crowned by a huge march in Paris that included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, with the world rallying around the slogan “Je suis Charlie.”
On Sunday, Hollande led a program of music and readings dedicated to the victims and the city of Paris.
Johnny Hallyday — the 72-year-old rocker known as the French Elvis — sang “Un Dimanche de Janvier” (“A Sunday in January”) that he penned in honor of last year’s massive march.
“We came without fear and without hatred to remember our heroes of ink and paper,” sang the artist who was a frequent target of Cabu, one of the slain Charlie cartoonists.
The singer, accustomed to thunderous accolades at sold-out concerts, drew only polite applause for the performance.
“I’m like Cabu, I can’t stand Johnny,” laughed 60-year-old Yvette at the event.
“There are fewer people here because of the ‘state of war’ — I’m using Hollande’s term,” the financial compliance officer said.
A Cameroonian secondary school teacher, Germaine Lipeb, who normally takes her children to church on Sundays but skipped it this week, said, “Everyone is scared.”
She said she had been at the national stadium on Nov. 13, where the jihadi attacks began.
“If I hadn’t been at the stadium I would have been at a cafe” near the Place de la Republique where diners and drinkers were gunned down, Lipeb said.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo acknowledged Sunday’s disappointing turnout with a quip, saying “Parisians are not really morning people.”
Even the singing of the national anthem “La Marseillaise” was muted, with few members of the public joining in.
Historian Pascal Ory, in his just-published “Ce Que Dit Charlie” (“What Charlie Says”) theorizes that the trauma of the past year has created a “mass of individualists” with individual ways of dealing with a country under attack from jihadis.
Muslims, meanwhile, remain anxious over being associated with jihadis.
“People generalize, they mix everything up,” said Ahmed Arkiz, a 59-year-old company chauffeur from Morocco who stayed away from Sunday’s event.
Attacker at large
At least one attacker is at large, and France’s top security official acknowledged Sunday that authorities don’t know his whereabouts. The country is under a state of emergency after attacks in Paris on Nov. 13. Paris was again jolted Thursday when a man wearing a fake explosives vest and wielding a butcher’s knife ran up to a police station and was shot to death by officers standing guard.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told i-Tele television on Sunday “We don’t know where Salah Abdeslam is,” referring to the fugitive gunman. Abdeslam crossed into Belgium Nov. 14 and Belgian authorities believe he hid out in a Brussels area apartment used to make bombs for the Paris attacks before moving on.
Meanwhile, acting on “concrete evidence” from French security authorities, German police on Saturday raided an apartment at a shelter for asylum-seekers in the western German city of Recklinghausen that they say had been occupied by the man who was killed by French police in Thursday’s incident outside a Paris police station.
North Rhine-Westphalia state police chief Uwe Jacob described the suspect as a small time criminal known to authorities by several aliases, who had a record that included weapons charges, drug trafficking and causing bodily harm and had spent at least a month in jail.
He said there are no indications the man was part of an extremist network, but that a self-drawn Islamic State flag was found in his room, the dpa news agency reported.
At a news conference in Duesseldorf, Jacob told reporters that the man had first entered Germany in 2013 after living for five years illegally in France, and had gone by at least seven names, identifying himself as a Tunisian, Moroccan and Georgian. He lived in several German cities and moved to Recklinghausen at the beginning of last August.
Cazeneuve said in remarks Sunday that the man was also believed to have lived in Luxembourg and Switzerland. French investigators were still trying to determine the man’s identity.