France: Terror Funding, Attack Weapons Came From Abroad

PARIS (AP) -
French President Francois Hollande delivers his speech, at left, during a ceremony to pay tribute to the three police officers killed in the attacks, in Paris, France, Tuesday. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, pool)
French President Francois Hollande delivers his speech, at left, during a ceremony to pay tribute to the three police officers killed in the attacks, in Paris, France, Tuesday. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, pool)

France will seek tighter surveillance of convicted extremists, the country’s prime minister announced Tuesday as reports emerged that the arsenal of weapons used by a terror cell to kill 17 people around Paris came from abroad.

In a rousing, indignant speech, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said “serious and very high risks remain” and warned the French not to let down their guard. He called for new surveillance of imprisoned radicals and told the interior minister to come up with new security proposals shortly.

Several people are being sought in relation to the “substantial” financing of the three gunmen behind the terror campaign, said Christophe Crepin, a French police union official. The gunmen’s weapons stockpile came from abroad, and the size of it plus the military sophistication of the attacks indicated an organized terror network, he added.

“This cell did not include just those three, we think with all seriousness that they had accomplices, because of the weaponry, the logistics and the costs of it,” Crepin said. “These are heavy weapons. When I talk about things like a rocket launcher — it’s not like buying a baguette on the corner, it’s for targeted acts.”

French police say as many as six members of the terrorist cell that carried out the attacks may be at large, including a man seen driving a car registered to the widow of one of the gunmen. The country has deployed 10,000 troops to protect sensitive sites, including Jewish schools and synagogues, mosques and travel hubs.

While French authorities worked to trace the source of the weapons funding, a Bulgarian prosecutor announced that a Frenchman already in custody had ties to Cherif Kouachi, one of the brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo newspaper massacre that left 12 people dead last week.

The man, identified by French prosecutors as Joachim Fritz-Joly, was arrested Jan. 1 as he tried to cross into Turkey. He was facing two European arrest warrants, one citing his alleged links to a terrorist organization and a second for allegedly kidnapping his 3-year-old son and smuggling him out of the country, said Darina Slavova, the regional prosecutor for Bulgaria’s southern province of Haskovo.

“He met with Kouachi several times at the end of December,” Slavova said. The child was sent back to his mother in France.

At a hearing in Haskovo on Tuesday, authorities decided to keep Fritz-Joly in custody until another hearing to determine whether he will be extradited to France. The Frenchman told the court he had known Cherif Kouachi since childhood.

“A man can have friends and they can do whatever they want, but I am simply going on vacation and have nothing to do with it,” he told the court.

While Kouachi and his older brother, Said, killed 12 at the satirical paper’s offices on Jan. 7, their friend, Amedy Coulibaly, killed a French policewoman Thursday and four hostages Friday in a Paris kosher grocery. All three claimed ties to Islamic extremists in the Middle East — the Kouachis to al-Qaida in Yemen and Coulibaly to the Islamic State group — and all three died Friday in clashes with French police.

Authorities were searching around Paris for the Mini Cooper registered to Hayat Boumeddiene, Coulibaly’s widow, who Turkish officials say is now in Syria. French police also want to find the person or persons who shot and posted a video of Coulibaly explaining how the attacks in Paris would unfold.

The three attackers have known each other since at least 2005, when Coulibaly and Cherif Kouachi were jailed together.

Meanwhile, at police headquarters in Paris, French President Francois Hollande paid tribute to the three police officers killed in the attacks, placing Legion of Honor medals on their flag-draped caskets.

Hollande vowed that France will be “merciless in the face of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim acts, and unrelenting against those who defend and carry out terrorism, notably the jihadists who go to Iraq and Syria.”

In a sign that French judicial authorities were using laws defending against terrorism to their fullest extent, a man who had praised the terror attacks in a rant while resisting arrest on a drunk-driving violation was swiftly sentenced to four years in prison.