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Police say French teacher’s killer sent texts to parent angry over Mohammad cartoons

A woman looks at flowers at the entrance of a middle school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 30km northwest of Paris, on October 17, 2020, after a teacher was decapitated by an attacker who was then shot dead by policemen.
A woman looks at flowers at the entrance of a middle school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 30km northwest of Paris, on October 17, 2020, after a teacher was decapitated by an attacker who was then shot dead by policemen. © Bertrand Guay, AFP

French authorities said Tuesday they would close a Paris mosque in a clampdown on radical Islam following the beheading of a teacher who had shown his pupils controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. The move came as police sources said the killer had been in contact with a disgruntled parent in the days before the murder.

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The man who beheaded a French teacher for showing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in class sent a message to one of the schoolchildren's parents who had complained about the images days before the attack, police sources said Tuesday.

Police sources told AFP that the parent – the father of a girl in the teacher's class – had posted his phone number on Facebook and exchanged messages with 18-year-old Chechen Abdullakh Anzorov on WhatsApp in the days leading up to the murder. BFM TV reported earlier on Tuesday that the father had denounced the teacher in a video on social media and had exchanged messages with the accused. 

The father, who is in now police custody, was behind an online campaign urging "mobilisation" against the teacher.

The breakthrough in the case came as President Emmanuel Macron promised more pressure on Islamist extremism after days of clampdowns that have resulted in over a dozen arrests, a mosque ordered shut and a pro-Hamas group to be dissolved.

"Our fellow citizens expect action," Macron said during a visit to a Paris suburb. "These actions will be stepped up."

History teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded on Friday outside his school in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Saint-Honorine by an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin. Prosecutors said the attacker, shot dead by police soon after the attack, wanted to punish the teacher for showing his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics class on freedom of expression earlier this month.

The father had posted a video on Facebook on October 8 saying he wanted the teacher removed, prosecutors said at the weekend. The man also went to see the school principal to complain and put out another Facebook video, giving the name of the teacher and identifying the school.

Late Tuesday, French authorities announced that six people thought to be involved in the murder were released, bringing the number of people in custody as part of the investigation into the attack to 10. Four members of the assailant's family were able to walk free, as well as extremist activist Abdelhakim Sefrioui's girlfriend and a person who had been in contact with the assailant.

Minute of silence at the National Assembly

The murder shocked France, carrying echoes of the 2015 attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Public figures called the killing an assault on the Republic and on French values, and Paty is to posthumously receive France's highest award, the Légion d'honneur.

A memorial march is to be held Tuesday evening in Conflans-Saint-Honorine hours after France’s lawmakers gathered for a ceremony and a minute of silence at the National Assembly.

"The enemy is here," Prime Minister Jean Castex told parliament shortly after lawmakers held a minute of silence. "Radical Islam has infiltrated our society founded on tolerance."

'The enemy is here', French PM Jean Castex told lawmakers as they paid tribute to beheaded teacher Samuel Paty
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Prosecutors said the attacker approached pupils outside the Collège du Bois d'Aulne and asked them to identify Paty as he left for home. French media reported that four of those being questioned were students who accepted cash from the killer. It was not clear whether they knew of his motive.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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