Shocked France stands in solidarity with the beheading of a teacher
Protesters in the Place de la Republique held signs reading: “No to the totalitarianism of thought” and “I am a teacher” in memory of the beheaded victim Samuel Paty.
Thousands of people demonstrated in Paris and other French cities on October 18 in a show of solidarity and defiance after a teacher was beheaded for showing students cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. (AFP)
Some chanted “I am Samuel”, echoing the cry of “I am Charlie” that traveled the world after Islamist gunmen killed 12 people in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015 for publishing cartoons of the Islamic prophet.
Among applause, others recited: “Freedom of expression, freedom of education.”
Demonstrations are also planned in the cities of Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nantes, Marseille, Lille and Bordeaux.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex (left), Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo (C) and Paris Deputy Mayor Audrey Pulvar (right) stand as people gather at the Place de la Republique in Paris on October 18 2020 (AFP).
Paty’s murder has shocked the country and brought back memories of a wave of Islamist violence in 2015 that began with the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
Those murders saw around 1.5 million people rally at the Place de la Republique in support of freedom of expression.
People lay flowers on the Place de la Liberte in Lille on October 18, 2020, in tribute to the history teacher Samuel Paty, two days after an attacker beheaded him. (AFP)
Before Sunday’s meeting, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer called on “everyone to support the teachers,” he told the broadcaster. France 2 that it was vital to show “our solidarity and unity”.
Prime Minister Jean Castex and the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, were among those present.
“I am here as a teacher, as a mother, as a French and as a Republican,” said Virginie, one of those gathered.
On Saturday, counter-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said Paty had been threatened online prior to her murder for showing the cartoons to her civics class.
Representations of the prophet are considered taboo in Islam.
On the mobile phone of his murderer, 18-year-old Chechen Abdullakh Anzorov shot a photo of the teacher and a message in which he confessed to his murder.
Witnesses said the suspect was seen at the school on Friday asking students where he could find Paty.
The father of a schoolgirl had launched an online call for “mobilization” against the teacher and had requested his expulsion from the school.
The girl’s father and a known Islamist militant are among those arrested, along with four members of Anzorov’s family.
An 11th person was detained on Sunday, a judicial source said, without providing details.
The aggrieved father had named Paty and gave the school’s address in a social media post just days before the beheading that President Emmanuel Macron has called an Islamist terror attack.
Ricard did not say whether the attacker had any ties to the school, students or parents, or had acted independently in response to the online campaign.
The prosecutor said that the attacker was armed with a knife, a compressed air pistol and five cartridges. He had shot the police and tried to stab them when they approached him.
In turn, he received nine shots.
The Russian embassy in Paris said the suspect’s family came to France from Chechnya when he was six years old and applied for asylum.
Locals in the Norman town of Evreux, where the attacker lived, described him as low-key and said he got into fights as a child but calmed down as he became increasingly religious in recent years.
Friday’s attack was the second of its kind since a trial began last month for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015.
The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani wounded two people with a butcher knife outside the magazine’s former office.
Ricard said Paty’s murder illustrates “the very high-level terrorist threat” that France still faces, but added that the French intelligence services were not aware of the attacker.
On Saturday, hundreds of students, teachers, parents and supporters flocked to Paty’s school to deposit white roses.
“For the first time, a teacher was attacked for what he teaches,” said a teacher from a neighboring town who gave only his first name, Lionel.
According to parents and teachers, Paty had given Muslim children the option of leaving the classroom before showing the cartoons, saying she did not want to hurt their feelings.
And Kamel Kabtane, rector of the Lyon mosque and a high-ranking Muslim figure, said Sunday that Paty had simply been “doing her job” and was “respectful” in doing so.
“These terrorists are not religious, but they are using religion to seize power,” Kabtane told AFP.
The ministers who make up France’s defense council will meet on Sunday to discuss the Islamist threat.
On Wednesday there will be a national tribute for Paty.