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France teacher's killer had contact with jihadist in Syria

  • Published at 11:00 am October 23rd, 2020
France Teacher Beheading
People stand in front of a portrait of French teacher Samuel Paty displayed on the facade of the Opera Comedie, in Montpellier on October 21, 2020 AFP

France paid homage to Paty on Wednesday, with President Macron saying that the history and geography teacher had been slain by ‘cowards’

The investigation into the murder of a French teacher for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in class turned to Syria on Thursday, where the killer was in contact with a Russian-speaking jihadist, it emerged Thursday.

Seven people have been charged with being complicit in a "terrorist murder" after 18-year-old Chechen Abdullakh Anzorov beheaded Samuel Paty on the outskirts of Paris on Friday, including two teenagers who helped the killer identify his victim.

France paid homage to Paty on Wednesday, with President Emmanuel Macron saying that the history and geography teacher had been slain by "cowards" for representing the secular, democratic values of the French Republic.

"Islamists want to take our future," Macron said. "They will never have it."

On the eve of Friday Muslim prayers, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) sent French imams a text to draw from in their preaching.

"We Muslims are not persecuted in France," the statement read.

"We are sometimes targets of anti-Muslim acts... but "others are also victims of hostile acts. In the face of these provocations we must remain dignified, calm and lucid."

Anti-terror investigators have now established that Anzorov, who moved to France with his family from the Russian republic of Chechnya as a child, had been in contact with a jihadist in Syria, a source close to the case told AFP.

The identity of the Russian-speaking jihadist is not yet known, the source added.

Traced to Idlib 

Le Parisien newspaper reported on Thursday that Anzorov's suspected contact had been located through an IP address traced back to Idlib, a jihadist holdout in northwestern Syria.

Idlib is controlled by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, formerly Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch, but has also become the refuge for several jihadist splinter groups.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has reported the presence of thousands of foreign nationals, including French, British and Chechen fighters in the region.

"The Chechens in Idlib have their own independent factions, but they have allied themselves with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham," SOHR's director, Rami Abdel Rahmane, told AFP.

In an audio message in Russian immediately after the killing, translated by AFP, Anzorov said that he had "avenged the Prophet" whom the teacher had shown "in an insulting way."

The message was published on social media in a video, accompanied by two tweets, one showing the victim's severed head and another in which Anzorov confessed to the murder.

Moments later he was shot dead by police.

Two teenagers from Paty's school who pointed him out to his killer in return for $356-$414 were charged late Wednesday over the killing.  

The parent of one of Paty's students, who started the social media campaign against the teacher, has also been charged, as has a known Islamist radical who helped the father stir up outrage against Paty.

The other three facing prosecution are friends of Anzorov, one of who allegedly drove him to the scene of the crime while another accompanied him to purchase a weapon.

'Murdered for his teachings' 

Paty, 47, became 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 Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.

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.

Paty's beheading was the second knife attack in the name of avenging the Prophet Mohammed since a trial of alleged accomplices in the Charlie Hebdo attack started last month.

The killing has prompted an outpouring of emotion in France, with tens of thousands taking part in rallies countrywide in defence of free speech and the right to mock religion.

"We will not give up cartoons," Macron vowed at Wednesday's ceremony at the Sorbonne university in Paris.

An opinion poll by the Ifop institute on Thursday found that nearly 80% of those questioned said it was appropriate for teachers to use cartoons making fun of religion in the classroom.

The head of the UN agency for education and culture, Audrey Azoulay, on Thursday said that "a teacher has been murdered for his teachings."

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