French mosque shut over message linked to teacher beheading

World

A demonstrator displays on his back a portrait of slain teacher Samuel Paty during a demonstration Sunday Oct. 18, 2020 in Paris. Demonstrations around France have been called in support of freedom of speech and to pay tribute to a French history teacher who was beheaded near Paris after discussing caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad with his class. Samuel Paty was beheaded on Friday by a 18-year-old Moscow-born Chechen refugee who was shot dead by police. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS (AP) — A mosque in a Paris suburb is being closed for six months starting Wednesday night on orders from France’s interior minister in a crackdown following the beheading last week of a teacher.

A sign posted by the regional prefecture at the entrance of the Pantin mosque, northeast of Paris, said the house of worship would be closed for six months — with a six-month prison sentence for violators.

A terror investigation is under way into Friday’s beheading of Samuel Paty in another suburb, after he showed caricatures of the prophet of Islam to his class earlier this month. His civics course led to parental complaints and threats.

The Pantin mosque is being punished for relaying a message on social media from the father of a student with a virulent complaint about the teacher. The father quoted his 13-year-old daughter as saying that Paty had asked Muslims to leave the classroom — a version that was contested by the teacher himself, according to press reports.

Paty, a history teacher at a middle school northwest of Paris, was beheaded by a 18-year-old Moscow-born Chechen refugee, who was later shot dead by police.

As of Tuesday, 16 people, including students, were being held for questioning.

President Emmanuel Macron has asked for quick, concrete action in the case. Macron is waging war against what he calls “separatism,” referring to Islamist extremism that authorities say has created a parallel world that counters French values.

Authorities say the Pantin mosque has long had an imam following the Salafist path, a rigorous interpretation of the Muslim holy book.

Pantin was where an 18-year-old Pakistani refugee three weeks earlier attacked and injured two people with a meat cleaver lived.

A memorial march was being held Tuesday evening near the school where Paty taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine to pay homage to the murdered teacher.

Investigators are trying to learn how the killer, who lived in the Normandy town of Evreux, set up his encounter with Paty, whether there was complicity and whether the beheading was premeditated.

Police have been rounding up potential suspects or others who may have had ties to the killer, with 16 people currently detained, including members of the same family according to a judicial official who could not be named because they were not authorized to comment on an ongoing investigation.

Five students were reportedly among those held, one who allegedly took money from the killer, identified by authorities as Abdoullakh Anzorov.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said late Monday that the message relayed by the Pantin mosque mentioned the address of the school. In an interview with TF1 TV station, he also said authorities have closed 356 locations where people were radicalized since Macron took office in 2017.

Darmanin had previously said authorities were also looking into about 50 associations suspected of encouraging hate speech and the issue will be discussed at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.

A national memorial event will be held Wednesday evening to pay tribute to Paty in the courtyard of Sorbonne university, a centuries-old symbol of the “spirit of Enlightenment” and “a forum to express ideas and freedoms,” the French presidency said.

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Nicolas Garriga in Pantin and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed.

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