The French school teacher beheaded in an Islamist terror attack on Friday had a ‘fatwa’ launched against him before he was killed, France’s interior minister said today.
Gerald Darmanin said an arrested preacher and a father who complained about the teacher’s use of Prophet Mohammed cartoons had ‘clearly launched a fatwa’, or Islamic religious ruling, against teacher Samuel Paty.
French police today raided the homes of dozens of suspected militants in a crackdown which Darmanin said was intended to send a message that ‘enemies of the Republic’ will not enjoy ‘a minute’s respite’.
Darmanin told Europe 1 radio that police operations were continuing against ‘dozens of individuals’ after 11 people were arrested over the weekend and Emmanuel Macron vowed new measures against extremism.
The father, Brahim Chnina, whose 13-year-old daughter went to Paty’s secondary school, had launched an online call for ‘mobilisation’ against the teacher and had sought his dismissal from the school over the cartoons.
Chnina had named Paty and given the school’s address in a social media post just days before the assault, which Macron labelled an Islamist terror attack.
Prosecutors have not said whether the attacker, 18-year-old Chechen extremist Aboulakh Anzorov, had any links to the school or acted independently upon the online outrage.
However, relatives of Anzorov have been arrested and his half-sister is known to have joined ISIS in 2014, although her current whereabouts are unknown.
According to Le Monde, Anzorov had tried to bribe students with hundreds of euros for information about the teacher, with a 15-year-old pupil apparently among those arrested – although it is not suggested that he knew what Anzorov had planned.
Darmanin said there were about 80 investigations under way into online hate speech in France and that he was looking into whether or not certain groups from the French Muslim community should be dissolved.
French prime minister Jean Castex joined demonstrators on Sunday who staged a rally in tribute to Paty, 47.
Thousands gathered to pay tribute to the slain teacher in a defiant show of solidarity at the Place de la Republique after the latest in a string of terror attacks in Paris.
Some held placards reading ‘I am Samuel’ that echoed the ‘I am Charlie’ rallying cry after the 2015 attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which published caricatures of Mohammed.
A moment’s silence was observed across the square, broken by applause and a rendition of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem. Others recited: ‘Freedom of expression, freedom to teach.’
Demonstrators also gathered in major cities including Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nantes, Marseille, Lille and Bordeaux.
It has been revealed that Islamist terrorist Anzorov filmed himself killing and then beheading Paty outside the gates of his school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine before sharing a video of the victim’s severed head to fellow ISIS supporters.
Investigations are focusing on Brahim Chnina, the father of the 13-year-old girl in Paty’s class, who denounced the teacher online and gave details of the school. He has since been arrested.
Branding Mr Paty a thug in a video posted on Twitter sometime in the last week, he asked the community to complain about the teacher’s behaviour. The killer is presumed to have seen the video and acted upon it.
The killer’s uncle told French television: ‘He was a child. He was only 18. If he were still alive, I would have asked him: ‘Why did you do that? What was going on your head?’ He must have been influenced by someone.’
The prosecutor leading the investigation, Jean-François Ricard, said that the suspect, who had been granted a 10-year residency as a refugee in March and was not known to intelligence services, had been armed with a knife and an airsoft gun, which fires plastic pellets.
The Russian embassy in Paris said Anzorov’s family arrived in France from Chechnya when he was six to seek asylum.
It also emerged that Anzorov asked pupils at the French school to point out the teacher who had shared a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the Prophet nude before targeting him.
Mr Paty had received threats after showing the cartoon during a class on freedom of speech about 10 days ago at the secondary school in middle-class Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.
The teacher had invited Muslim students to leave the room before showing the caricature. Muslims believe that any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous.
However, one pupil stayed behind by mistake, and later told her Muslim parents. They filed a complaint against the teacher and held a meeting with Mr Paty, the school principal and an official from the education authority.
The video shared by Chnina sparked community outrage and was shared by a mosque in Pantin, a Parisian suburb. Days later, Mr Paty was stabbed and decapitated.
Witnesses said they heard Chechen-born attacker Anzorov shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ – Arabic for ‘God is the greatest’ – before he was shot dead by police about 600 yards from the killing.
French anti-terror prosecutors said they were treating the assault as ‘a murder linked to a terrorist organisation’.
Five of the people held for questioning are members of Anzorov’s social circle, including his grandparents, parents and 17-year-old brother.
The detainees also include Chnina, the concerned parent, and an Islamic activist friend, Abdelhakim Sefrioui.
Friday’s terror attack came as Emmanuel Macron works on a bill to address Islamic radicals, who authorities claim are creating a parallel society outside French values.
France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe with up to five million.
Macron denounced what he called an ‘Islamist terrorist attack’ on Friday, saying: ‘One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught the freedom to believe or not believe.’
He added: ‘It was no coincidence that the terrorist killed a teacher because he wanted to kill the Republic and its values, the Enlightenment, the possibility to make our children, wherever they come from, whatever they believe in, whether they believe or not, whatever their religion, to turn them into free citizens.
‘This battle is ours and it is existential. They will not pass. Obscurantism and the violence that goes with it will not win. They will not divide us. That’s what they seek and we must stand together.’
Prime minister Castex wrote on Twitter: ‘Through one of its defenders, it is the Republic which has been struck in the heart by Islamist terrorism.
‘In solidarity with its teachers, the State will react with the greatest firmness so that the Republic and its citizens live, free! We will never give up. Never.’
Addressing the country’s teachers, pupils and their parents, education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Paty was killed by what he called the enemies of freedom.
‘The Republic will never, never, never back down when confronted by terror, intimidation,’ he said in a recorded statement.
Lawmakers and teachers’ unions hailed the teacher’s courage for confronting challenging taboos in French society. .
Jean-Remi Girard, president of the National Union of School Teachers, told BFM TV that children needed to understand that blasphemy can shock, but is legal.
Sophie Vénétitay, deputy head of the SNES-FSU teachers’ union, said: ‘He was murdered because he was doing his job, namely teaching critical thought.’
She said Mr Paty was a history and geography teacher who was in charge of ‘moral and civic education’.
‘In that capacity, he gave a lesson on freedom of expression with the Mohammed cartoons,’ she said.
Other politicians lined up to express their horror at the killing, with Xavier Bertrand, centre-right president of the Hauts-de-France region, saying: ‘Islamist barbarity has taken aim at one of the symbols of the Republic: school. The terrorists want to shut us up, to bring us to our knees.
‘They should know that we will not bend, they will never forbid us to read, write, draw, think, teach.’
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally, said: ‘A teacher beheaded for showing Charlie Hebdo caricatures. We are in France with this level of unbearable barbarity. Islamism is waging war on us: it is by force that we must drive them out of our country.’
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, head of the far-left party France Unbowed, said: ‘Horrible crime in Conflans! In fact, the assassin takes himself for the god that he claims he follows. He is sullying religion. And he is inflicting on us all the hell of having to live with murderers like him.’
Muslim leaders also condemned the killing, which many public figures perceived as an attack on the essence of French statehood and its values of secularism, freedom of worship and freedom of expression.
Tareq Oubrou, the imam of a Bordeaux mosque, said of the killing, ‘It is not a civilisation that kills an innocent person, it is barbarity’.
Thousands of battle-hardened Chechen refugees, including many devout Muslims, entered France in the early 2000s following two bloody wars against Russia.
Around 30,000 Chechens in total escaped to France, many of them resettling in the suburbs of major cities such as Paris.
France has seen occasional violence involving its Chechen community in recent months – in the Dijon region, the Mediterranean city of Nice, and the western town of Saint-Dizier – believed to be linked to local criminal activity.