France will prosecute seven people over last week’s beheading of a history teacher, including two teenagers accused of pointing him out to his killer, anti-terror authorities said on Wednesday as the nation paid homage to the slain educator.
“We will not give up cartoons,” President Emmanuel Macron told a solemn ceremony at the Sorbonne university in Paris attended by the family of Samuel Paty, the teacher who was targeted for having shown cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed in a civics class discussion on free speech early this month.
The president gave France’s highest civilian award, the Legion of Honour, to Paty and said he had been slain by “cowards” for representing the secular, democratic values of the French Republic.
“He was killed because Islamists want our future,” Macron said. “They will never have it.”
Earlier Wednesday anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said the two children being held — aged 14 and 15 — had been in a group of pupils who shared 300-350 euros ($356-$414) offered by the killer to help find Paty.
The two stayed with the killer, Chechnya-born 18-year-old Abdullakh Anzorov, for more than two hours waiting for Paty even after he told them he wanted to “humiliate and strike” him over the Mohamed caricatures, seen as offensive by many Muslims, Ricard said.
Anzorov then killed Paty as he made his way home on foot from the junior high school where he taught in the suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine outside Paris.
The 47-year old teacher had become the target of an online hate campaign over his choice of lesson material — the same images which unleashed a bloody assault by Islamist gunmen on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.
A trial opened in Paris last month for complicity in that attack, which claimed the lives of 12 people including cartoonists.
Anzorov decapitated Paty with a long knife and tweeted an image of the teacher’s severed head on Twitter before he was shot dead by police. Many of Paty’s pupils saw the disturbing image online.
The two teenagers are among seven people who will face prosecution for “conspiracy to commit a terrorist murder”, said Ricard.
The others include the father of one of Paty’s pupils, who started the social media campaign against the teacher even though his daughter was not in class when the cartoons were shown, said the prosecutor.
The father had exchanged messages with Anzorov via WhatsApp in the days leading up to the murder.
A fourth suspect is a known Islamist radical who helped the father in his campaign.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has accused the two men of having issued a “fatwa” against Paty.
Three of Anzorov’s friends complete the suspect list, one of whom allegedly drove him to the scene of the crime while another accompanied him to purchase a weapon.
Police have carried out dozens of raids since the crime, while the government has ordered the six-month closure of a mosque outside Paris and dissolved the Sheikh Yassin Collective, a group they said supported Hamas.
The Palestinian militant group said on Wednesday it had “no links” with the French organisation founded by Abdelhakim Sefrioui — the Islamist radical in custody over Paty’s murder.
The French government has earmarked for dissolution more than 50 other organisations it accuses of having links to radical Islam.
“Our fellow citizens expect actions,” Macron said on Tuesday, promising that the government will intensify a crackdown on radical Islam.
Paty’s beheading was the second knife attack in the name of avenging the Prophet Mohammed since the Charlie Hebdo trial started last month.
Thousands more took part in a silent march in the teacher’s honour in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Tuesday.
France’s sports ministry said on Wednesday that participants in all professional sporting events this weekend — football, basketball, handball, rugby and ice hockey and volleyball — would observe a pre-match minute of silence for Paty, and wear black armbands for matches scheduled for next week.