CONFLANS-SAINTE-HONORINE, France (Reuters) – 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, a police source said.
The source said the attacker sent the Muslim schoolgirl’s father an SMS message and added that it was not clear whether the parent responded. BFM TV reported he had exchanged WhatsApp messages with the killer in the days preceding the attack.
The parent is one of 16 people now held in custody over the blood-curdling killing of 47-year-old history teacher Samuel Paty. It horrified a country whose deep-rooted democratic values, the government says, are under attack from within.
“The enemy is here,” Prime Minister Jean Castex told parliament on Tuesday shortly after lawmakers held a minute’s silence in the National Assembly. “Radical Islam has infiltrated our society founded on tolerance.”
Castex told lawmakers France was in need of a law against endangering the lives of others via social media networks.
Paty 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.
Prosecutors said the attacker had approached pupils outside the College du Bois d’Aulne and asked them to identify Paty as he left for home. French media reported that four of those being questioned were students who accepted cash from the killer. It was not clear if they knew of his macabre motive.
In Conflans, hundreds of citizens walked through the streets as night fell in a silent tribute to Paty. “Thanks Mr Paty, rest in peace,” read a banner carried by two schoolgirls.
Prosecutors said the assailant, shot dead by police soon after the attack, wanted to punish his victim for showing his pupils satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a class focused on freedom of expression earlier this month.
Authorities on Tuesday ordered the closure of a Paris suburb mosque that had shared on Facebook a video recorded by the parent being detained by police in which he called for Paty to be fired and called him a thug.
In a subsequent video, the parent identified the school and teacher by name.
President Emmanuel Macron, during a visit to the first local anti-radicalisation unit created by his government, said a group linked to the beheading had been disbanded and action would be taken against more such groups in the coming days and weeks.
Under pressure from political opponents who have accused him of not being tough enough on terrorism, Macron is cracking down on by what he calls Islamist separatism – attempts by some French Muslims to impose conservative Islamic beliefs eclipsing traditional values of the French Republic in their communities.
A national tribute in honour of Paty will be held at Paris’ Sorbonne university on Wednesday. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Paty would be posthumously awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest award.
Reporting by Lucien Libert, Michel Rose, Matthieu Protard and the Paris bureau; Writing by Geert De Clercq and Richard Lough; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Mark Heinrich