The suspects behind the beheading of a French teacher had actively called for his death online, France’s interior minister said on Monday.
Samuel Paty was beheaded on Friday outside his school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, in the northern suburbs of Paris, by an 18-year-old Chechen man who was subsequently shot dead by police.
“They apparently launched a ‘fatwa’ against the teacher,” Gerald Darmanin told Europe 1 radio on Monday, referring to the father of a student and an activist who appeared together to complain about Paty to the headteacher of the school he worked at.
The student’s father posted a video on social media claiming that Paty had shown an image of a naked man and told students it was “the prophet of the Muslims”. He called on other angry parents to contact him and relay the message.
Earlier this month, as part of a class on freedom of expression, Paty had shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that angered Muslims around the world when they were published in satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Many Muslims believe any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous and the cartoons were cited as the motivation behind an attack on the magazine’s offices by two gunmen in 2015.
Four schoolchildren were being held by French police on Monday on suspicion of helping the man who beheaded the history teacher to identify his victim in return for money, a judiciary source said.
They were among 15 people being held over the incident, one of whom has previously been convicted for terrorism-related crimes and admitted to having had contact with the man who killed Paty
Friday’s killing sparked outrage in France and drew condemnation from political parties and President Emmanuel Macron, who called the crime an “Islamist terrorist attack”.
The attacker was born in Russia but had been living in the town of Evreux northwest of Paris. He was not previously known to the intelligence services.
On Sunday, demonstrators on the Place de la Republique held posters declaring: “No to totalitarianism of thought”, and “I am a teacher”.
“You do not scare us. We are not afraid. You will not divide us. We are France!” tweeted Prime Minister Jean Castex, who joined the Paris demonstration.
Friday’s attack was the second of its kind since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings; last month a man wounded two in an assault near the magazine’s former offices.
The magazine republished the controversial cartoons in the run-up to the trial.
Meanwhile, more police operations were under way, Darmanin said on Monday.
The interior minister said there were about 80 probes under way into online hate speech in France and that he was looking into whether certain groups from the French Muslim community should be dissolved following accusations of promoting violence and hate.
“Police operations have taken place and more will take place, concerning tens of individuals,” he told Europe 1 radio.
A police source told Reuters news agency late on Sunday that France was preparing to expel 231 foreigners on a government watch list for suspected hardline religious beliefs. It was not immediately clear if Monday’s operations were connected.
Members of the European Parliament held a minute of silence on Monday in a tribute to the French teacher.
“Our thoughts go out to Samuel Paty’s family and loved ones, and to all the teaching staff in France and everywhere else,” European Parliament President David Sassoli said at the opening of the plenary session in Brussels.
“Terror is fought through education, through teaching, in which Samuel Paty believed, as he practised it,” Sassoli said.