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France marks first anniversary of Charlie Hebdo attack


Paris: French President Francois Hollande today unveiled plaques in memory of the victims of the jihadist rampage a year ago in Paris that began with an assault on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and lasted three days, claiming 17 lives.

Hollande, flanked by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, inaugurated the first plaque at Charlie Hebdo’s former offices, where cartoonists who were household names in France, nicknamed Cabu, Wolinski and Charb, were killed along with nine others.

The January 7-9, 2015, attacks by brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, dubbed “France’s 9/11”, marked the start of a string of jihadist strikes in the country that culminated in the November 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 dead.

The massacre at Charlie Hebdo unleashed an outpouring of solidarity for freedom of expression, with the rallying cry “Je Suis Charlie” taken up around the world.

After the sombre ceremony in a light drizzle, Hollande could be seen embracing Georges Wolinski’s widow Maryse.

Red-faced authorities admitted later that they had misspelled Wolinski’s name on the plaque, and rapidly corrected the error.

The president and mayor unveiled a separate plaque nearby at the site where one of the jihadist gunmen fleeing the scene shot police officer Ahmed Merabet as he lay on the pavement.

They went on to unveil a third plaque at the Hyper Cacher, a kosher supermarket in an eastern suburb where four Jews – three shoppers and an employee – were killed during a horrifying hostage drama.

Hollande could be seen greeting Lassana Bathily, the Muslim worker at the supermarket credited with saving many shoppers’ lives by helping them hide in the store’s underground cold room and later aiding police in the logistics of their raid.

Bathily, a Malian who was given French nationality in the wake of the attacks, told AFP: “It’s sad… In our hearts, we are here, offering support to their (the victims’) families.”

On Saturday, a fourth plaque is to be unveiled at the site in the southern suburb of Montrouge where Amedy Coulibaly, who later attacked the Jewish supermarket, gunned down a policewoman.

Commemorations will culminate in a public event Sunday in the Place de la Republique, the vast square that has become the rallying point for “Je Suis Charlie” solidarity and for the mourning after the November 13 carnage.

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