France to rally in solidarity and defiance after beheading of teacher Samuel Paty near Paris
Rallies are planned for Sunday in cities across France in a show of solidarity and defiance following the decapitation of a teacher outside his school for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
The horrific beheading of history teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb Friday has sparked outrage in France and memories of a wave of Islamist violence in 2015 after caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hedbo.
“It is absolutely important to show our mobilisation and our solidarity, our national cohesion,” education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told France 2, calling on “everyone (to) support the teachers”.
One rally was set to take place at the Place de l République in Paris, a traditional site of protest where around 1.5 million people demonstrated in 2015 following a deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo’s office by Islamist gunmen.
Rallies were also expected in Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nantes, Marseille, Lille and Bordeaux.
History teacher Paty had been a target of online threats after showing the cartons, with the father of one schoolgirl launching an online call for “mobilisation” against him, France’s anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said.
The 18-year old suspect, named as Abdullakh A, was shot dead by police shortly after the attack.
The Russian embassy in Paris said the suspect’s family had arrived in France from Chechnya when he was six-years-old and requested asylum.
The schoolgirl’s father and a known Islamist militant are among 10 people arrested.
Ricard said the school received threats after the class in early October, which featured the controversial caricatures – one of the prophet naked – with the girl’s father accusing Paty of disseminating “pornography”.
The school girl’s father named Paty and gave the school’s address in a social media post just days before the beheading, which Presiden Emmanuel Macron has labelled an Islamic terror attack.
It is not yet known if the attacker had links to the school, pupils or parents or acted independently in response to the online campaign.
Witnesses said he was spotted at the school on Friday afternoon asking pupils where he could find Paty.
A photograph of Paty and a message confessing to his murder were found on the assailant’s mobile phone.
The attacker had been armed with a knife, an airgun and five canisters. He shot at police and tried to stab them as they closed in on him.
He was in turn shot nine times, said Ricard.
Locals in the town of Evreux where the attacker lived described him as low key. But one local who had been at school with him said he had become religious in recent years.
“Before, he got involved in fights but for the last two or three years he had calmed down” and had been “immersed in religion”, he said.
Friday’s attack was the second since a trial started last month into the January 2015 massacre at the offices of the Charlie Hedbo satirical magazine. The magazine had published caricatures of the prophet that caused widespread anger across the Islamic world.
The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the former Paris offices of the magazine.
Richard said Paty’s murder shows “the very high-level terrorist threat” France still faces.
“I Am Samuel’
The attacker was not known to the Frech intelligence services, according to the prosecutor.
An investigation is underway into “murder linked to a terrorist organisation”.
The investigation will also look at a tweet from an account opened by the attacker, and since shut down, that showed a picture of Paty’s head and described Macron as “the leader of the infidels”.
A national tribute will be held for Paty on Wednesday.
On Saturday, hundreds of pupils, teachers and parents went to Paty’s school to lay white roses.
Some carried placards stating: “I am a teacher” and “I am Samuel” – echoing the “I am Charlie” cry that travelled around the world after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo killings.
According to parents and teachers, Paty gave Muslim children the option to leave the classroom before he showed the cartoons, saying he did not want their feelings hurt.
According to a pupil, Paty showed the cartoons every year as part of a discussion about freedom following the Charlie Hebdo attack.
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