French anti-terrorism prosecutors have said there is a “direct causal link” between a social media campaign against a history teacher and his killing last week.
Samuel Paty, 47, was beheaded last Friday near the school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, some 25 kilometres northwest of Paris.
The teacher had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class during a lesson on freedom of speech October 5.
Paty was later “targeted” by activists online, specifically posts from Brahim C., the father of one of the students in the class, who said his daughter had objected to the lesson, anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard told a press conference on Wednesday.
It later emerged, however, that the 13-year-old girl was off sick on the day Paty showed the caricatures of Muhammad in class.
The teenager was later suspended for two days for unrelated behavioural issues, the anti-terrorism prosecutor said, that were unrelated to the class in question.
Brahim C claimed that she was suspended due to her objections to Paty, calling out the teacher and the secondary school on social media.
An activist known to French intelligence, Abdelhakim Sefrioui, attended a meeting at the school with Brahim C. and also encouraged the social media campaign, that went viral.
Sefrioui “presented as a religious authority” in social media posts, Ricard said.
The pro-Palestinian organisation Sefrioui founded has now been disbanded by French authorities over alleged links to the incident.
The 18-year-old attacker, a Chechen refugee who was recently radicalised, had read information about these social media posts and was inspired by it, Ricard said.
According to French media, both the student’s father and Sefrioui deny knowledge of any violent attack.
Anti-terror prosecutor Ricard said the “context” of the incidents was also “particular” coming shortly after the September 25 attack outside the former headquarters of Charlie Hebdo.
Ricard said the there were also three communications from terrorist group Al-Qaeda and its Yemen branch in September that justified terror attacks in France and the murder of those who published the caricatures.
There are now seven people detained in connection with the teacher’s murder for complicity including two minors, aged 14 and 15 years-old, who have now been referred to a judge for identifying the victim to the attacker ahead of the terrorist attack.
The attacker gave them €300 and €350 respectively in exchange for the information about Paty, antiterror prosecutor Ricard said.
The killing of Paty provoked a strong response in France where schools are a vector to impart the Republic’s secular values on citizens.
It also comes just after President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to prevent foreign-involvement in the French Muslim community in a programme countering what he has called separatism.
In the aftermath of the terror attack, Macron has taken a harder line on radical Islam, stating that the government will take further actions to protect citizens.
The country will hisse homage to the teacher at the Sorbonne on Wednesday night.