Samuel Paty posthumously awarded French Légion d’honneur

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Two teenage pupils charged with complicity in terrorist murder as slain teacher given France’s highest civilian award

Jon Henley Europe correspondent  – The Guardian

The French teacher decapitated while returning home last week has been posthumously awarded the Légion d’honneur, hours after France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor said the killer had paid two pupils from the school to identify his victim.

At a private ceremony in the main amphitheatre of the Sorbonne university on Wednesday, President Emmanuel Macron bestowed the country’s highest honour on the family of Samuel Paty, 47, who was killed on Friday after showing his class two cartoons of the prophet Muhammad as part of a discussion on free speech.

An audience of about 400 people, including children, friends, relatives and former presidents, then paid tribute to the history and geography teacher in the university’s main courtyard, during an emotional public service broadcast live on television.

Paty was “a quiet hero”, a visibly moved Macron said in a 15-minute speech. “He was the victim of stupidity, of lies, of confusion, of a hatred of what, in our deepest essence, we are … On Friday, he became the face of the Republic.”

Addressing the dead teacher’s coffin, Macron said: “We will continue this fight for liberty and for reason of which you have now become the face, because we owe it to you. Because in France, sir, the lights will not go out.”

Paty was stabbed and beheaded outside his secondary school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, about 20 miles north-west of Paris, by Abdullakh Anzorov, 18, of Chechen origin, who was shot dead by police soon afterwards.

The murder has shocked France and prompted a crackdown on Islamic extremism. Police have raided dozens of suspected extremists and Islamist groups, with several likely to be dissolved. A mosque near Paris is to close for six months.

Earlier on Wednesday, the prosecutor, Jean-François Ricard, said that among seven people facing potential charges of association with criminal terrorists and complicity in a terrorist assassination were two pupils, aged 14 and 15, accused of accepting €300-€350 (£270-£315) to point the teacher out to his killer. On Wednesday night, French media reported the pair had been charged with complicity in a terrorist murder.

Two of Anzorov’s friends, aged 18 and 19, are suspected of driving him to the area and helping him buy a knife and other weapons. They were also charged with complicity in a terrorist murder on Wednesday night, local media reported, as was a parent at the school, identified as Brahim C.

Brahim C posted statements and videos on Facebook naming Paty and the school and demanding he be fired, Ricard said. The militant, named in media reports as Abdelhakim Sefrioui, had also posted on Facebook and YouTube, describing Paty as a “thug” as part of an orchestrated online hate campaign.

Le Monde said Sefrioui had also been charged with with complicity in a terrorist murder.

Ricard said the investigation had determined “a direct link of causality” between the two men’s actions and the murder. He said there was evidence the killer had been “directly inspired” by some of the social media posts, verbatim notes of which were found on his phone.

The French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, has accused the parent – who exchanged WhatsApp messages and phone conversations with the killer in the days before the attack – and Sefrioui of issuing a “fatwa” against Paty.

Nine other people detained since the killing, including four members of Anzorov’s family, had been released, Ricard said.

Citing police sources, French media reported on Wednesday that Paty had told police investigating a formal complaint by the parent, the father of a girl at the school who did not attend Paty’s class, that he had not, as claimed, asked Muslim pupils to leave.

“I said I was going to show the two cartoons, and any pupil who thought they might find them offensive could look away,” the teacher reportedly said. The cartoons were shown alongside others of different subjects as part of a class on free expression.

The teacher received the full backing of the school’s principal and the local education authority in the days after the class, which took place on 5 October, the French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said.

The images were part of a series published by the magazine Charlie Hebdo that led to a deadly assault on its offices five years ago in which 12 people, including cartoonists, were killed.

Macron promised a clampdown on Islamist activity following the latest attack. “This cannot be about making new announcements,” he said on Tuesday. “Our fellow citizens expect acts. These acts will intensify.”

Darmanin said on Wednesday he had asked local authorities to put mosques in Bordeaux and Béziers in south-west France under police protection following threats or acts of violence.

 

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