France clamps down, closes mosque after teacher's beheading

Paris (AFP) –

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French authorities said Tuesday they would close a Paris mosque in a clampdown on radical Islam that has yielded over a dozen arrests following the beheading of a teacher who had shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The move came as the investigation revealed the killer had been in contact with a disgruntled parent at Paty's school in the lead-up to the crime.

The parent -- the father of a girl in Paty's class -- was behind an online campaign urging "mobilisation" against the teacher.

The father, who is in police custody, had placed his phone number on Facebook and exchanged messages with the killer -- 18-year-old Chechen Abdullakh Anzorov -- on WhatsApp in the days leading up to the murder, police sources told AFP.

Among other messages, the father had published a video railing against Paty's choice of lesson material.

The mosque now targeted for closure shared this video on its own Facebook Page.

The interior ministry said the mosque, in the densely-populated Pantin suburb northeast of Paris, would be shut on Wednesday night for six months.

Paty, 47, was attacked Friday on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40 kilometres (25 miles) northwest of Paris.

The killer posted images of the decapitated body on Twitter before he was shot dead by police.

Police have arrested 16 people in connection with the killing, including a known Islamist radical and four members of Anzorov's family.

On Monday, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the radical and the schoolgirl's father had in effect issued a "fatwa" against the teacher.

As the security forces launched a series of raids targeting Islamist networks, Darmanin vowed there would be "not a minute's respite for enemies of the Republic".

- Online campaign -

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Tuesday that Paty would be posthumously bestowed France's highest order of merit, the Legion of Honour.

The school said Paty had given Muslim pupils the choice to leave the classroom before he showed the cartoons.

But the girl's father was outraged by him displaying a caricature of the prophet naked, and sought Paty's dismissal for disseminating "pornography".

On Tuesday, the head of the Pantin mosque, M'hammed Henniche, said he had shared the father's video not to "validate" his complaint about the cartoons, but out of fear that Muslim children were being singled out in class.

An official decree for closing the mosque said the establishment "disseminated remarks provoking hatred and violence and likely to contribute to the commission of acts of terror".

Five pupils suspected of accepting payment for pointing Paty out to his killer were among those in police custody.

- 'Carried out by thugs' -

Paty's beheading was the second knife attack claimed in the name of avenging the Prophet since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings in 2015 when 12 people, including cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing Mohammed cartoons.

President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a plan this month to defend the country's secular values against radical Islam, which included closer scrutiny of mosques.

After Paty's murder, Macron threatened that "fear is about to change sides".

Darmanin said the government would also tighten its grip on private institutions and charities with suspected links to Islamist networks.

Junior interior minister Marlene Schiappa assembled French bosses of social networks Tuesday to discuss bolstering the "fight against cyber-Islamism".

Later Tuesday, Macron was to preside over a meeting of a community group set up to combat radical islamism in the Seine-Saint-Denis region north of Paris.

Earlier, Muslim leaders had gathered at Paty's school to distance their religion from the atrocity.

Tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide over the weekend to honour Paty and defend freedom of expression.

The French parliament observed a minute of silence for Paty on Tuesday, to be followed in the evening by a silent march in the teacher's honour in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.

Darmanin has called for vigilance at schools to be bolstered when pupils return after the autumn break.

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