Social media bosses were summoned yesterday by the French government, after it emerged the teenage terrorist who beheaded a teacher may have been led to his victim by an online campaign of harassment.
Samuel Paty, 47, was murdered with a butcher's knife in the street about 300m from the school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, north west of Paris, at around 5pm on Friday. Mr Paty was targeted for using cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed during a civics class focussing on freedom of expression.
A week earlier, one man who said his daughter was in Mr Paty's class recorded a video shared on social media in which he branded the teacher a thug and appealed to others to "join forces and say 'stop, don't touch our children'".
Mr Paty's name and school address were also put on the internet after he showed the cartoons of a nude Mohammed in class. He suggested any Muslims who might be offended should leave the room before showing the images. Islam prohibits images of the prophet, asserting these lead to idolatry.
The killer had approached schoolchildren in the street and asked them to point out the history teacher, said Jean-Francois Ricard, the anti-terrorist prosecutor.
The attacker followed Mr Paty, who was heading home on foot after school, inflicted multiple wounds to the head with a knife, and then beheaded the victim.
A police official said the attacker was shot dead about 600m from where Mr Paty was murdered. Police opened fire after he failed to respond to orders to put down his arms and acted in a threatening manner. The killer had been armed with a knife and an airsoft gun, which fires plastic pellets. There was speculation the teenager carried the imitation gun to ensure he would be shot dead by police.
The attacker was named as Abdoulakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old Chechen-Russian. Before police shot him dead, he posted a photo of his victim's severed head on Twitter - where it was seen by some of his pupils.
Mourners yesterday marched near the school in solidarity, holding signs saying Je Suis Enseignant and Je Suis Prof, which translate as "I am a teacher".
One parent whose daughter was in Mr Paty's class last year, told reporters: "My daughter saw the images of the body online, and many of the kids did too. That's what worries me most."
The terrorist, who was not known to intelligence services, was granted a 10-year residency in France as a refugee in March. He lived in Evreux in Normandy. Using Twitter to address French president Emmanuel Macron, he wrote alongside a picture of the teacher's severed head: "I executed one of your hell dogs who dared to belittle Muhammad."
Social media bosses were yesterday summoned to talks at France's Interior Ministry after what France's President Macron called a "blatant Islamist terror attack".
Parents and students pointed to the role social media played in magnifying the controversy over the freedom of expression class Mr Paty gave two weeks before the murder. Valerie Lalanne, a teacher in a school in the region where the attack happened, said: "We teachers are the protectors of freedom of expression. We can't back down now."
Marjorie Goetz, a 46-year-old neighbour and civil servant whose son will join the school next year, said: "As a citizen, I'm against censorship - but as a mother, I can't take those risks."
For Muslim residents, the fear of a backlash added to the anger over the killing. "He was my son's teacher. We are here to pay our respects and also show, as Muslims, that we are not like these people," said Stephanie Paris, 33.
Nine suspects have been arrested. Five were rounded up by police (among them two parents of pupils at Mr Paty's school) on Friday night and four were arrested yesterday. They include the parents of the killer, his 17-year-old brother and grandfather. The father's half-sister had joined the Islamic State organisation in Syria in 2014.
"Our community is horrified like all French people by this incident," said the Strasbourg-based Assembly of Chechens in Europe. It said that "no community can be held responsible for all isolated acts of its nationals".
Investigators suspect the killer had been angered by a decision by Charlie Hebdo, the satirical paper, to republish cartoons of Mohammed to coincide with the trial of 14 alleged accomplices of two Islamists who killed 12 people at its offices five years ago.
There will be a national tribute to Mr Paty in Paris on Wednesday.
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