Bertrand Guay / AFP via Getty Images
People gathered across France on Sunday to pay tribute to Samuel Paty, the 47-year-old history teacher who was beheaded after he showed the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a civic lesson.
Rallies formed in cities including Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Marseille and Bordeaux. Thousands gathered at Paris’ Place de la République, reported by the Huffington Post France filled with applause, French national anthems and a solemn minute of silence.
Attendees at demonstrations across the country carried placards reading “I am Samuel” and “I am a teacher,” according to the BBC.
France is trembling from the massacre, which took place in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Friday.
According to police, an 18-year-old Chechen who fled attacked Paty near the school and cut his throat, before posting a graphic claim of responsibility on social media. Police shot dead the attacker after he acted threateningly and did not respond to disarm orders, authorities said.
Moments later, President Emmanuel Macron described it as “an Islamic terrorist attack” and said the teacher was targeted because “he taught freedom of expression.”
Jean-François Ricard, French anti-terrorism prosecutor, said Paty had received death threats after allegedly displaying cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class about freedom of speech.
The Muslim faith forbids the description of Prophet Muhammad. The BBC reported that Paty advised Muslim students in the class to look away if they expect to be hurt.
Paty’s teaching provoked some angry reactions, with one parent accusing Paty of showing descriptions of the prophet naked, the BBC said. That parent submitted a formal complaint and called on people to protest at the school.
The lesson relates to the ongoing trial of the 2015 attack on Paris office satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was subjected to fire for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Islamist extremists have killed 12 people, and 14 accused have been accused of supporting armed men.
And late last month, after the trial began, two people were injured in an attack near the former magazine office that authorities are investigating as a possible terrorist act.
Ricard’s office said Friday that a terror investigation had been opened and authorities had arrested nine suspects, including several members of the attacking family. The number of detainees rose to 11 on Sunday, according to Reuters.
French political and religious leaders expressed outrage at the killings and called for unity.
French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer on Saturday stressed the need for unity within the education community and more generally, urging French citizens to show pride in their values of freedom, equality- equality and brotherhood.
“Secularism is key, it allows us to make differences, believe it or not, and respect each other,” Blanquer said. “And now it is clear to all that this is the attack.”
Marlène Schiappa, the junior minister for French citizenship, condemned the attack in a series of tweets and said she would attend the demonstration on Sunday “in support of teachers, secularism, freedom of expression and against Islamism. . “
Many in attendance were teachers themselves, according to France 24, and spoke of shock and grief over the murder.
“As a kindergarten teacher, I came here to defend my mission to teach, to sharpen the critical thinking skills of my students,” said one. “I prefer to teach more. There will be before and after this horrible event.”
Another protester told the network that people had gathered “to simply get together.”
French Prime Minister Jean Castex and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo were among thousands of protesters in Paris on Sunday. Both shared messages of strength and support on social media.
“You will not divide us,” Castex tweeted along with a video of the audience singing the national anthem. “We are France!”
Anger and sympathy also poured in from outside the country.
The secretary-general of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned the attack on Sunday, reiterating that it rejects “all forms of extremism, radicalization and terrorism for any reason or motive.”
And at a campaign rally in Wisconsin on Saturday night, President Trump expressed his condolences to Macron for what he called “vicious, vicious Islamic terrorist attacks.”
Reuters reported that a national tribute to Paty will be held in France on Wednesday.