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French teacher's killer exchanged messages with pupil's father before attack

The Chechen teenager who beheaded a French teacher for showing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in class had contacted a school parent who prosecutors said used social media to whip up a hateful campaign against the victim.

French teacher's killer exchanged messages with pupil's father before attack

French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded on a street in broad daylight in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine by a suspected extremist. (Photo: AP)

PARIS: The Chechen teenager who beheaded a French teacher for showing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in class had been in contact with a parent leading an online campaign against the victim, the investigation into the killing revealed Tuesday (Oct 20).

The breakthrough in the case came as President Emmanuel Macron promised more pressure on Islamist extremism after days of clampdowns which have resulted in over a dozen arrests, a mosque ordered shut and a pro-Hamas group to be dissolved.

France will pay tribute on Wednesday to the 47-year-old history teacher who was beheaded on a street in broad daylight in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a middle-class Paris suburb, by the 18-year-old Chechen, who was born in Moscow and had been living in France as a refugee.

"Our fellow citizens expect actions," Macron said during a visit to a Paris suburb. "These actions will be stepped up."

READ: France closes Paris mosque in clampdown over teacher's beheading

OFFICIAL MEMORIAL

Paty was attacked on Friday on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40km northwest of Paris.

On Wednesday evening, Macron will attend an official memorial with Paty's family and about 400 guests at the Sorbonne university, posthumously giving the teacher France's highest award, the Legion d'Honneur.

Paty had been the subject of an online hate campaign since showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed during class on free speech - the same images that sparked a bloody assault on the officials of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo when they were originally published five years ago.

Seven people, including two minors, will appear before an anti-terrorism judge on Wednesday for possible indictments in Paty's case, a judicial source told AFP. Nine other people were freed Tuesday evening.

The killer, Abdullakh Anzorov, was shot dead by police shortly after the assault.

READ: 'Teaching yes, bleeding no': France pays tribute to beheaded teacher

DIRECTLY IMPLICATED

A disgruntled parent who had fired up anger about Paty's lesson through messages on social media had exchanged messages on WhatsApp with Anzorov in the days leading up to the murder.

The material he uploaded was widely shared, including by a mosque in the northern Paris suburb of Pantin.

The head of the mosque, M'hammed Henniche, said he had shared the video out of fear that Muslim children were being singled out in class.

But the government has now earmarked his mosque for a six-month closure -- one of its most significant moves after days of raids and tough rhetoric.

Macron said a pro-Hamas group called the Cheikh Yassine Collective would be dissolved for being "directly implicated" in the murder, adding that a formal decision would be taken at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

The group's founder, Islamist radical Abdelhakim Sefrioui, is being held by police for publishing a video on YouTube insulting Paty.

Macron has also added an international dimension to his anti-extremism efforts, asking Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for strengthened cooperation in the fight against terrorism during a phone call on Tuesday.

Russia has played down any association with the killer, saying Anzorov had never been in contact with their officials and had left the country more than a decade ago.

"A REAL SCOURGE"

Paty's beheading was the second knife attack claimed in the name of avenging Prophet Mohammed since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings in 2015 when 12 people, including cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing Mohammed cartoons.

The role of social media platforms has once again come under the spotlight after much of the anger against Paty was whipped up on Facebook.

Paty's teaching colleagues said in a statement they were deeply concerned about the impact of social networks, which they called "a real scourge" for their profession.

The government has promised to create a new criminal offence that would punish anyone who endangers another person by publishing their details online, and ministers held talks with the French bosses of social networks on Tuesday to discuss the fight against "cyber-Islamism".

The killing has prompted an outpouring of emotion and solidarity in France, with tens of thousands taking part in rallies over the weekend across the country.

Parliament observed a minute of silence on Tuesday and thousands gathered for a silent march in the teacher's honour in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine that evening.

The next edition of Charlie Hebdo, meanwhile, will feature the headline "The decapitated Republic" on its front page along with cartoons representing various professions, the weekly said Tuesday.

"These murderers want to decapitate democracy itself," reads the editorial, to be published Wednesday.

Source: AGENCIES

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