Dignitaries and world leaders joined hundreds of thousands of people in Paris today in what government officials called a “unity rally” in defiance of a terrorism rampage that claimed 17 lives.
French President Francois Hollande was joined by other heads of state and dignitaries — several who linked arms.
French officials announced “exceptional measures” to protect not only the throngs gathered near the Place de la Republique in central Paris, but also a veritable who’s who of foreign leaders — a test of the security forces of a nation rocked by days of terrorist violence.
The massive rally comes as French law enforcement officers are being told to remove their social media presence and to carry their weapons at all times because terror sleeper cells have been activated over the last 24 hours in the country, a French police source who attended a briefing told CNN terror analyst Samuel Laurent.
Amedy Coulibaly, a suspect killed Friday during a deadly hostage siege at a kosher market, had made several phone calls about targeting police officers in France, according to the source.
While law enforcement worked to track down anyone who wants to harm the people of France, a sea of demonstrators broke into song, held hands, cheered and passionately denounced violence.
“This is about unity!” a man in the massive crowd told CNN’s Hala Gorani.
An imam and several Muslims were in the crowd. A young Muslim French woman held a sign that said, “I am a Jew.” She told CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen that she was horrified to hear of the killings, and the killers do not live according to the Islamic principles she’s been taught.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has outlined extraordinary security measures to protect VIPs such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
At many moments, the gathering looked like a funeral. Merkel was photographed lying her head gently on Hollande’s shoulder.
Other leaders included Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Several people in the crowd and on social media wondered why U.S. President Barack Obama was apparently not at the rally. Secretary of State John Kerry was not there either.
A senior State Department official told CNN that Kerry had committed a long time ago to be the lead speaker at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s entrepreneurship and innovation summit in India. The official said that Kerry did not want to cancel that as he continues to wok on the United States’ relationship with the nation. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley represented the United States at the rally.