Police to close Paris mosque in clampdown on extremism

By Jon Henley

French authorities have said they will close a well known mosque in a northern Paris suburb as part of their clampdown on Islamist groups and suspected extremists after a history teacher was beheaded last week outside his school.

As a police investigation continued into networks suspected of promoting extreme religious beliefs, spreading hate and encouraging violence, interior minister Gérald Darmanin, said the mosque in Pantin would be closed on Wednesday for six months.

A source close to the investigation said the mosque, which has about 1,500 worshippers, had posted a Facebook video about Samuel Paty days before the 47-year-old history and geography teacher was decapitated last Friday.

The video violently criticised Paty’s decision to show his class – after giving Muslim pupils the chance to leave if they felt uncomfortable – two caricatures of the prophet Muhammad alongside other cartoons as part of a class discussion on free speech.

The education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said on Tuesday that Paty would be posthumously awarded France’s highest award, the Légion d’Honneur. A national ceremony will be held in his honour at the Sorbonne University in Paris on Wednesday.

The teacher was stabbed and beheaded outside his secondary school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, about 20 miles north-west of Paris, by an 18-year-old of Chechen origin named as Abdullakh Anzorov who was shot dead by police soon afterwards.

Paris prosecutors said on Tuesday they had opened an investigation into a French neo-Nazi website hosted abroad that had republished the photo of Paty’s decapitated corpse posted to Twitter by the killer.

A junior interior minister, Marlène Schiappa, met on Tuesday with senior executives from social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to discuss ways of better combating what the ministry called “cyber-Islamicism”.

Paty’s murder was preceded by a fierce online campaign against the teacher and the school, led by the father of a pupil who had not attended the lesson. He posted a number of videos calling for Paty’s dismissal, one of which the mosque shared.

Both the father and Abdelhakim Sefrioui, a well-known Islamist radical who also posted videos online and campaigned for Paty’s removal, were among 16 people arrested in connection with the killing, including four members of Anzorov’s family.

Four pupils from the school who were suspected of having accepted payment for pointing Paty out to the attacker were also among those in custody on Tuesday.

The education ministry categorically denied rumours circulating, particularly on far-right websites, that the local education authority had been preparing to reprimand Paty for having shown the caricatures. The ministry said the teacher had behaved entirely appropriately and had been assured of the authority’s full support.

Darmanin on Monday accused Sefriou and the father of issuing a “fatwa” against Paty. The head of the Pantin mosque, M’hammed Henniche, said on Tuesday he had shared the video because he felt Muslim children were being being singled out in class.

Authorities are targeting suspect groups within the Muslim community and have said they expected to dissolve several of them. Darmanin and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, were due to attend a special meeting of the national anti-Islamist committee on Tuesday.

Macron is under pressure to come up with an effective response to the latest in a series of Islamist terror attacks that have rocked France since the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre, in which 12 people were killed in the offices of the satirical weekly after it published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.

More than 240 people have died from Islamist violence since 2015, prompting opposition politicians – particularly on the right – to accuse the government of waging a battle of words rather than taking decisive action.