PARIS (AP) — City officials in Reims say one of the terrorists responsible for attacks last week that killed 17 people was buried in the eastern French city over their objections and despite concerns that the grave could become a shrine for extremists.
Said Kouachi, the elder of the two brothers who together gunned down 12 people Jan. 7 in their attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, was buried at the demand of the French government, officials in Reims said in a statement Saturday.
“Given the risk of disturbance of the peace and in order to quickly turn the page of this tragic episode, it was decided to do the burial quickly,” the city said.
Earlier in the week Reims Mayor Arnaud Robinet said he’d “categorically refuse” a request by Kouachi’s family to bury him in Reims, 144 kilometers (89 miles) east of Paris, where he lived before police killed him and his brother Jan. 9. “I don’t want a grave that serves to attract fanatics. I don’t want a place that promotes hate,” Robinet said in an interview on France Info radio Thursday.
Speaking Saturday on BFM TV, Robinet said he’d been forced to allow the burial by the government, which enforced a French law that grants a right to be buried in the town of last residence.
“He was buried last night, in the most discrete, anonymous way possible,” Robinet said in an interview on French television channel BFM TV. Robinet said he didn’t know where Kouachi was buried in the cemetery, which he didn’t identify.
Antoine Flasaquier, a lawyer for Kouachi’s widow, said the burial took place overnight “in the greatest discretion and dignity.” Flasaquier said the widow did not attend the burial for fear she’d be followed by reporters and give away the location of the grave.
Two other terrorists killed in shootouts with police following last week’s attacks await burial. Cherif Kouachi will be buried in his hometown of Gennevilliers, outside Paris. City officials there say they wanted to avoid “all useless and indecent polemic” over the burial and said Kouachi would be buried in an anonymous grave “to avoid all risk of disturbance to the peace and to preserve the town’s tranquility.”
There has been no word of plans for burying Amedy Coulibaly, who killed five people including four hostages at a kosher market in Paris before he was killed by police Jan. 9.
The debate over the burials echoed the one nearly three years ago over Mohamed Merah, who killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in Toulouse in 2012. Then-President Nicolas Sarkozy intervened to allow the burial over the objections of Toulouse’s mayor.
Meanwhile in Belgium, paratroopers fanned out to guard possible terror targets across the country, including some buildings within the Jewish quarter of the port city of Antwerp. It was the first time in 30 years that authorities used troops to reinforce police in Belgium’s cities, and came a day after anti-terror raids netted dozens of suspects across Western Europe.
Of the 13 suspects detained in the Belgian sweep on Thursday, three were put under arrest, two were released under conditions while the eight others were freed by the weekend. A European arrest warrant was issued against two others who had fled into France, said federal magistrate Eric Van der Sypt.
Despite the release of several men, he said, “the people we wanted to have arrested, have been arrested.”
Belgian media on Saturday said investigators were still looking for one man, a Belgian with Moroccan roots who had gone to fight with IS in Syria and was said to be in Greece.
“We cannot comment on this but can only regret that the element of Greece has reached the media,” Van der Sypt said.
Belgium has increased its terror warning to 3, the second-highest, following the anti-terror raids of Thursday which left two suspects dead amid fears they had been planning imminent attacks on police and their offices.
Justice Minister Koen Geens told VTM network Saturday that “we hope the worst has been avoided but we need to prepare for the most difficult to come.”
Some 150 paratroopers were watching synagogues in Antwerp, the Jewish Museum in Brussels and other selected building across the nations. The figure could be double in the coming days until the situation will be reviewed next week.
Not everyone thought this would calm nerves. “You know, when people see the soldiers on streets they will get scared. That could make more problems than solutions,” said student Greg Verhoeven in Antwerp.
French, German, Belgian and Irish police had at least 30 suspects behind bars on Friday. In Brussels, authorities said a dozen searches led to the seizure of four Kalashnikov assault rifles, hand guns and explosives. Several police uniforms were also found, which Belgian authorities said suggested the plotters had intended to masquerade as police officers.
The seizures followed an anti-terrorism sweep on Thursday in and around Brussels and the eastern industrial city of Verviers in which two suspects were killed in a firefight and a third was wounded. Authorities said the follow-up operation netted several returnees from Islamic holy war in Syria.
Authorities have said there was no apparent link between the foiled plots in Belgium and last week’s terror attacks in Paris on the newspaper and a kosher supermarket.