People will rally in Paris and other French cities Sunday in a show of solidarity and defiance after a teacher was beheaded for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
The murder of history teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb on Friday has shocked the country and brought back memories of a wave of Islamist violence in 2015 sparked by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo publishing caricatures of the prophet.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer called on “everyone to support the teachers”, telling broadcaster France 2 that it was vital to show “our solidarity and unity”.
A rally is planned for the afternoon on the central Place de la Republique in Paris, a traditional site of protest where some 1.5 million people demonstrated in 2015 after Islamist gunmen killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo’s offices.
“Liberty, equality, fraternity,” tweeted junior interior minister Marlene Schiappa, announcing she would attend the Paris rally with Blanquer “in support of teachers, of secularism, of freedom of expression and against Islamism.”
Demonstrations are also planned in Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nantes, Marseille, Lille and Bordeaux.
On Saturday, anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said Paty had been the target of online threats for showing the cartoons to his class.
Depictions of the prophet are widely regarded as taboo in Islam.
The father of one schoolgirl had launched an online call for “mobilisation” against the teacher and had sought his dismissal from the school.
A photo of the teacher and a message confessing to his murder was found on the mobile phone of his killer, 18-year-old Chechen Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot dead by police.
The schoolgirl’s father and a known Islamist militant are among those arrested, along with four members of Anzorov’s family.
An 11th person was taken into custody on Sunday, a judicial source said, without providing details.
The aggrieved father had named Paty and gave the school’s address in a social media post just days before the beheading which President Emmanuel Macron has labelled an Islamist terror attack.
Ricard did not say if the attacker had any links to the school, pupils or parents, or had acted independently in response to the online campaign.
The prosecutor said the attacker had been armed with a knife, an airgun and five canisters. He had fired at police and tried to stab them as they closed in on him.
He was in turn shot nine times.
The Russian embassy in Paris said the suspect’s family had arrived in France from Chechnya when he was six and requested asylum.
Locals in the Normandy town of Evreux where the attacker lived described him as low key, saying he got into fights as a child but calmed down as he became increasingly religious in recent years.
Friday’s attack was the second of its kind since a trial started last month over the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre.
The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the magazine’s former office.
Ricard said Paty’s murder illustrated “the very high-level terrorist threat” France still faces but added the attacker was not known to French intelligence services.
On Saturday, hundreds of pupils, teachers, parents and sympathisers flooded to Paty’s school to lay white roses.
Some carried placards stating: “I am a teacher” and “I am Samuel” — echoing the “I am Charlie” cry that travelled around the world after the Charlie Hebdo killings.
“For the first time, a teacher was attacked for what he teaches,” said a teacher from a neighbouring town who gave only his first name, Lionel.
According to parents and teachers, Paty had given Muslim children the option to leave the classroom before he showed the cartoons, saying he did not want their feelings hurt.
And Kamel Kabtane, rector of the mosque of Lyon and a senior Muslim figure, said Sunday that Paty had merely been “doing his job” and was “respectful” in doing so.
“These terrorists are not religious but are using religion to take power,” Kabtane told AFP.
A national tribute is to be held for Paty on Wednesday.
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