Opinion

French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

People look at flowers, outside Bois d’Aulne secondary school, placed in honor of slain history teacher Samuel Paty, October 19, 2020, in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris. (AFP)
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Updated 19 October 2020

French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

  • President Emmanuel Macron: Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country
  • French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom

PARIS: French police on Monday launched a series of raids targeting extremist networks three days after the beheading of a history teacher who had shown his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

The operation came a day after tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide to honor history teacher Samuel Paty and defend freedom of expression.

Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin said “dozens” of individuals were being probed for suspected radicalization.

While they were “not necessarily linked” to Paty’s killing, the government aimed to send a message that there would be “not a minute’s respite for enemies of the Republic,” he added.

Darmanin said the government would also tighten the noose on NGOs with suspected links to extremist networks.

“Fear is about to change sides,” President Emmanuel Macron told a meeting of key ministers Sunday to discuss a response to the attack.

“Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country,” he said.

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Paty, 47, was attacked on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Paris.

A photo of the teacher and a message confessing to his murder was found on the mobile phone of his killer, an 18-year-old Chechen man Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot dead by police.

The grisly killing has drawn parallels with the 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, where 12 people, including cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Paty had shown his civics class one of the controversial cartoons.

According to his school, Paty had given Muslim children the option to leave the classroom before he showed the cartoon in a lesson on free speech, saying he did not want their feelings hurt.

The lesson sparked a furor nonetheless and Paty and his school received threats.

Eleven people are being held over his murder, including a known radical and the father of one of Paty’s pupils, who had launched an online campaign against the teacher.

Darmanin accused the two men of having issued a “fatwa” against Paty, using the term for an edict that was famously used to describe the 1989 death sentence handed down against writer Salman Rushdie by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

Anzorov’s family arrived in France from the predominantly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya when he was six.

Locals in the Normandy town of Evreux where he lived described him as a loner who had become increasingly religious in recent years.

Police are trying to establish whether he acted alone.

Four members of his family are being held for questioning.

In scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, when over a million people marched through Paris to defend press freedom, people again gathered at the central Place de la Republique on Sunday to express their horror over Paty’s death.

Some in the crowd chanted “I am Samuel,” echoing the 2015 “I am Charlie” rallying call for free speech.

French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom.

The government has vowed to step up security at schools when pupils return after half-term.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who laid a wreath outside Paty’s school on Monday, called for “wartime legislation” to combat the terror threat.

Le Pen, who has announced she will make a third bid for the French presidency in 2022, called for an “immediate” moratorium on immigration and for all foreigners on terror watchlists to be deported.

Paty’s beheading was the second knife attack since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings.

The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the publication’s old office.


Britain pledges $227 million annual civilian and food aid to Afghanistan

Updated 39 min 36 sec ago

Britain pledges $227 million annual civilian and food aid to Afghanistan

  • Afghanistan is at risk of receiving between 15 percent and 20 percent less funding than it received at the previous donor conference four years ago

GENEVA: Britain said it will pledge $227 million in annual civilian and food aid for Afghanistan at a conference on Tuesday in Geneva where officials from about 70 countries and humanitarian organizations will pledge billions of dollars for the war-torn nation.
Dependent on foreign aid, Afghanistan is at risk of receiving between 15 percent and 20 percent less funding than it received at the previous donor conference four years ago, diplomats say, as governments are under intense pressure to make savings as they ramp up spending to help their own economies recover from impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Withholding funds at this point, diplomats say, could at least provide foreign governments with some leverage to inject a greater sense of urgency into peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives that began in Qatar in September.
Britain, a country with a long and difficult history of involvement in Afghanistan, is the country’s third largest bilateral donor, and the amount being pledged in Geneva will be slightly higher than it pledged at the last donor conference in Brussels four years ago.
The statement issued by the UK Mission to the United Nations and World Trade Organization in Geneva said $207 million would be pledged to support peace and stability in Afghanistan and “improve access to education and vital infrastructure.”
Britain would “also announce an extra $20 million to the United Nations’ World Food Programme” for Afghanistan.
The latest monetary commitment is separate from the $93.32 million security pledge for Afghan forces for 2021, which Britain announced last month.
In Brussels in 2016, Britain had pledged a total of $1 billion for four years, which translated into 187.5 million pounds annually.
At the Brussels conference, Afghanistan obtained total pledges of $15.2 billion for 2017 to 2020, equivalent to $3.8 billion a year.