01/10/2015 11:26 EST | Updated 03/12/2015 05:59 EDT

Paris attacks: More Muslim backlash feared

As France launched a massive hunt for the female accomplice of militant Islamists behind attacks on a satirical newspaper and Jewish deli, many Muslims in the country fear a massive backlash. 

"It's a very, very difficult time," Elsa Ray told CBC News on Saturday. She represents Collective Against Islamaphobia in France. "And I am also afraid of the consequences on Muslims in France."

- TIMELINE | Key events in the Paris attacks

In the worst assault on France's homeland security for decades, 17 victims lost their lives in three days of violence that began with an attack on the Charlie Hebdo weekly on Wednesday and ended with Friday's dual sieges at a print works outside Paris and a kosher supermarket in the city.

The whereabouts of the partner of the Jewish deli attacker, 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, remains unknown. Police listed her as a suspect in that strike and an earlier killing of a policewoman, describing her as "armed and dangerous."

"We are shocked and sad about what happened," said Ray. "There has already been a lot of backlash against Muslims...We have had many mosques attacked, one of them with a bomb."

Ray said there is also "a lot of physical and verbal abuse" against Muslims in France as well as "hate speech over the internet."

Ray implored all people to be "open-minded and to try to communicate with each other."

On Saturday, tens of thousands flocked to local vigils, with 80,000 in Toulouse and 30,000 in the Riviera city of Nice, and a similar number in Pau in the southwest.

"It's no longer like before," said Maria Pinto, on a street in central Paris. "You work a whole life through and because of these madmen, you leave your house to go shopping, go to work, and you don't know if you'll come home."

Far-right rise

Anand Memon, an expert on French politics and European integration at King's College London, told CBC News that France was already divided prior to the attacks.

"The far right National Party was polling well into 20 per cent even before this," he pointed out in an interview on Saturday. "They have proposed a referendum on bringing back the death penalty [and] I think it will resonate with a lot of working-class voters who are frustrated at what they see as a weak response to Muslim extremism.

"There has...always been tensions in French society. Many members of the Muslim community are part of the underclass who live in the suburbs of the big cities. There is real disillusionment among Muslim youth."

Sunday 'silent march'

Meanwhile, the country is under top-level security alert ahead of a Paris "silent march" with European leaders set for Sunday.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls urged a massive turnout on Sunday.

Canada's Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney laid a wreath Saturday at the headquarters of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, where a dozen people were killed in a terror attack this week.

Blaney told reporters he was there to show the support of Canadians for the French people, adding there is a deep bond between Canada and France.

Blaney will represent Canada at a unity rally Sunday in Paris, where British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders will join French President Francois Hollande.

Michel Robitaille, Quebec's delegate-general in the French capital, will attend on behalf of the province.