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Allegedly Stalked French School Before Ordering Teacher, Officials Say



PARIS – An 18-year-old Chechen immigrant suspect accused of beheading a teacher of history in a suburb of Paris angry over display of Prophet Muhammad’s cartoon classroom last Saturday.

The suspect, identified by authorities as Abdoulakh A., went to the area outside the school on Friday afternoon before following the teacher, who stabbed him and killed him with a knife, said Jean-François Ricard, the leader. persecution of antiterrorism, at a news conference.

“The individual was in front of the college in the afternoon and the students were asked to indicate the future victim to him,” said Mr. Ricard, referring to the middle school where the teacher, Samuel Paty, taught. The suspect was seriously shot by police in a confrontation after the murder, which took place in Eragny, a suburb near the school.

Investigators found a message planning the attack on the suspect’s cellphone, which was written hours before, Mr. Ricard said. Then, shortly before he was killed by police, the suspect uploaded a photo of the victim on Twitter, he added.

The horrific massacre seems to have been the culmination of several weeks of tension at school, in the Collège du Bois-d’Aulne, in a quiet, middle-class suburb north of Paris. Muslim parents are upset at the display in the classroom of two cartoons published by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that contacted school officials and police, but the videos were uploaded on a father’s social media has expanded the controversy to an outside audience.

Investigators are still trying to figure out how the suspect spent his days before the attack, Mr. Ricard said. But the suspect did not seem to have any direct contact with the school or was previously involved in the dispute.

Born in Moscow, the suspect lived in France with the status of a refugee, Mr. Ricard said, adding that he was not known by antiterrorism officials.

Brutal murder is the second violent stage in weeks to be linked to cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo, which led to the deadly attack in Paris in 2015. Last month, as the trial of accomplices began in the 2015 attack, the magazine republished the illustrations – an action seen as a bold statement in the name of freedom of expression by some but as careless and unnecessary arousal by others.

Last month, a 25-year-old Pakistani immigrant attacked two people outside Charlie Hebdo’s former office, apparently outraged after watching videos showing protests in Pakistan against the re-publication of cartoons.

Beyond its brutality, the killings on Friday hit a huge rock in France as President Emmanuel Macron and other top government officials stormed the scene on Friday night.

Jean-Michel Blanquer, the minister of national education, said that in the murder on Friday, it was “the republic being attacked.” France said a ceremony would be organized to pay homage to the slain teacher.

The minister’s words reflect the central role played by French public schools – which adopt a national curriculum established by the central government – in cultivating civic values ​​and a national identity. But they also emphasized the repeated tensions between the traditional French republican values ​​and the newer ones, especially the Muslim faiths who opposed the publication of caricatures.

Tensions at the Collège du Bois-d’Aulne arose earlier this month as teachers – who were 47 and, according to parents and students, taught at the school in just a few years – discussed the subject. of freedom of expression.

To illustrate the topic, the teacher showed his students – mostly 13-year-olds – two cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that appeared in Charlie Hebdo, Mr. Ricard said. According to an email later sent to the parents of the school principal, the teacher asked the students who could be hurt by the material looking away or temporarily leaving the classroom. The teacher realized his frustration and apologized, according to an email, obtained by The New York Times.

Cécile Ribet-Retel, president of PEEP de Conflans, the local chapter of a national parent organization, said her group heard about 20 parents, expressing their anger or their support for the teacher. The parents met with school officials and both sides seemed to be working towards understanding, Ms. Ribet-Retel.

“But then the information obtained on social media, was strengthened and replaced,” Ms. Ribet-Retel. “And it became impossible to govern.”

A particular vocal parent – the father of a 13-year-old girl who was angry with the caricatures – met with the principal and asked to remove the teacher, Mr. Ricard said. The father uploaded critical and angry videos on social media on October 7 and October 12, acknowledging the teacher and the school, he said.

Laurent Brosse, the mayor of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, the suburb of Paris where the school is located, local officials said police had warned intelligence that the situation seemed out of control due to the video.

“We did what seemed important to us at that moment,” Mr. Brosse said, adding, “We know that this question of freedom of expression arouses social tension.”

But despite these warnings, “no action was taken,” Ms. Ribet-Retel.

The video has been widely shared on social networks by individuals denouncing anti-Muslim racism and even by official accounts of mosques and Muslim organizations.

“It was blown out of proportion in the Muslim community,” said Siham Touazi, a councilor in a neighboring municipality, who received video-linking messages to several WhatsApp groups.

The assassination came just weeks after Mr. Macron unveiled a plan to combat what he described as the threat of “Islamist separatism” in French secularism. Mr. Macron focuses on the education sector, particularly on the return of what he described as a threat to the secular values ​​taught in the country’s schools and cites the example of Muslim parents who oppose letting their children take of swimming lessons.

“The situation has become so tense in our country with issues of secularism and Islam that it has become impossible to have a reasonable dialogue,” said Gérard Pommier, national president of PEEP, the parent organization.

The slain teacher – described by Ms. Ribet-Retel and many current and former students as a dedicated and serious educator – appeared to try to navigate the tensions in his class on freedom of expression. As he showed the two cartoons to his class, he suggested that those who could be hurt – implicit Muslim students – leave or look away. In France, where it is illegal to ask people about their religion, the teacher’s proposal seems to violate the country’s secularism, said Rodrigo Arenas, co-president of the FCPE, another parent organization.

Aude Clabaut, a teacher at another school in the area, said the murdered teacher should not ask students to leave the classroom. But he said he failed in the growing challenge of secularism in his own classroom, with some students refusing to remove their veils and Muslim parents competing in secularism courses.

“I was sad and very angry,” said Ms Clabaut, who joined a group of people Saturday in front of the school where the slain teacher worked.

Hundreds of students and parents, as well as city residents, gathered to pay homage to the teacher, in an instruction in singing La Marseillaise, the national anthem.

Some have signs that read “I’m a teacher,” directly referring to the “I am Charlie” support signs that appeared thousands of hours after the 2015 magazine attack. students hugged each other, their eyes swollen with tears.

But tensions were also present on Saturday afternoon, as some did not hesitate to directly teach Islamism. A man holding a sign – “Political Islam is a cancer. We remove it or we die from it” – a short police interrogation and his signature was confiscated.

Reported by Constant Méheut from Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. Antonella Francini contributed research from Paris.


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