France closes Paris mosque in clampdown over teacher’s beheading

The Grand Mosque de Pantin, which will close following a request by the prefect, in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, October 20, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 20 October 2020

France closes Paris mosque in clampdown over teacher’s beheading

  • The mosque in a densely-populated suburb northeast of Paris had published a video on its Facebook page days before Friday’s gruesome murder
  • Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Tuesday that Paty would be posthumously bestowed France’s highest order of merit, the Legion of Honour

PARIS: French authorities said Tuesday they would close a Paris mosque in a clampdown on radicalism that has yielded over a dozen arrests following the beheading of a teacher who had shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The mosque in a densely-populated suburb northeast of Paris had published a video on its Facebook page days before Friday’s gruesome murder, railing against teacher Samuel Paty’s choice of material for a class discussion on freedom of expression, said a source close to the investigation.

The interior ministry said the mosque in Pantin, which has some 1,500 worshippers, would be shut on Wednesday night for six months.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has vowed there would be “not a minute’s respite for enemies of the Republic.”

The order came after police on Monday launched a series of raids targeting extremist networks, mainly in the Paris region.

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 the capital.

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

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Tuesday that Paty would be posthumously bestowed France’s highest order of merit, the Legion of Honour, for having been “martyred” because of his profession.

The murder was preceded by a fierce online campaign against Paty and the school, led by the father of a schoolgirl.

The school said Paty had given Muslim pupils the choice to leave the classroom.

The father who posted the video shared by the Pantin mosque is among 15 people arrested after the killing, along with a known radical and four members of Anzorov’s family.

Darmanin accused the father and the radical of having issued a “fatwa” against the teacher.

On Tuesday, the head of the Pantin mosque, M’hammed Henniche, said he had shared the video not to “validate” the complaint about the cartoons, but out of fear that Muslim children were singled out in class.

Four pupils suspected of accepting payment for pointing Paty out to his killer were also taken into custody Monday.

Junior interior minister Marlene Schiappa was to meet the French bosses of social media networks Tuesday to discuss bolstering the “fight against cyber-extremism.”

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

Tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide on Sunday to honor Paty and defend freedom of expression, while Muslim leaders gathered at his school Monday to offer condolences and distance their religion from the atrocity.

French President Emmanuel Macron threatened that “fear is about to change sides” in the new anti-extremist campaign.

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

In the September attack, two people were wounded outside the publication’s former offices.

A silent march is planned for Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Tuesday evening in homage to Paty, while parliament will observe a minute of silence in the afternoon.

Macron will attend an official homage with Paty’s family Wednesday at the Sorbonne university.

Blanquer added that schools countrywide will observe a minute’s silence for Paty when pupils return after the autumn break, and a special lesson on the recent events will be taught in all classes.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti on Tuesday denied there had been any failure on the part of intelligence services.

“This is an insidious war,” he told France Inter. “There is organized terrorism that is monitored by our services, and then there is a young man of 18 who was not on the radar of the intelligence services and who committed this abominable act.”

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


Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

Updated 21 min 40 sec ago

Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

  • In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements

BRUSSELS: An Iranian diplomat goes on trial in Belgium on Friday accused of plotting to bomb an opposition rally outside Paris, in a case that has stoked tensions with Tehran.
The case shines another uncomfortable light on Iran’s international activities just as it hopes to ease tensions with the United States after President Donald Trump tore up the 2015 nuclear deal signed by both countries and other world powers.
It also comes a day after a prisoner swap that saw the release of three Iranians jailed over a 2012 bomb plot in Thailand, in exchange for the freeing of an Australian-British lecturer imprisoned by Tehran for alleged spying.
In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements.
Later that year, the French government accused Iran’s intelligence service of being behind the operation, a charge the Islamic republic has furiously denied.
Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old Iranian diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces life in prison if convicted.
The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which includes the People’s Mojahedin of Iran or (MEK), organized a rally in Villepinte outside Paris on June 30, 2018.
Several well-known international figures — including former US and British officials and Franco-Colombian former senator Ingrid Betancourt — and NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi were to attend.
On the same morning, Belgian police intercepted a Belgian-Iranian couple driving from Antwerp and carrying half-a-kilo of TATP explosives and a detonator.
The arrested couple, 36-year-old Nassimeh Naami and 40-year-old Amir Saadouni, join Assadi in the dock, alongside another alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, 57.
All four are charged with attempting to carry out a terrorist attack and taking part in the activity of a terrorist group. All face life sentences.
Assadi was arrested while he was traveling through Germany where he had no immunity from prosecution, being outside of the country of his diplomatic posting.
Arefani, an Iranian poet who had lived in Belgium for more than a decade, was arrested in France in 2018 after Belgium issued a European arrest warrant.


Counsel representing those targeted by the alleged attack say Arefani was close to Assadi, said to be the architect of the plot, and point to an Austrian SIM card found in his possession.
The two men deny any connection.
“We are looking at a clear case of state terrorism,” said lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier, who is representing the interests of the NCRI, along with French colleague William Bourdon.
Dimitri de Beco, defense counsel for Assadi, has accused the civil plaintiffs of trying to turn the case into a political trial on behalf of the opposition movement.
According to Iran expert Francois Nicoullaud — a former French ambassador to Tehran — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was surprised to learn about the failed attack.
“Visiting Europe at the time, he was absolutely furious to learn about this intelligence service operation, on which he hadn’t been consulted,” the diplomat told AFP.
At the time of the alleged plot, Rouhani was trying to maintain the support of European capitals for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration.
When Paris pointed the finger at Iranian intelligence, an Iranian spokesman voiced denial and alleged that opponents of the deal in “certain quarters” were attempting to frame Tehran.
That idea was dismissed by observers like Nicoullaud as a smokescreen. “It’s not serious,” he said.
The trial is scheduled to take two days, Friday and then Thursday next week. The court is then expected to adjourn to consider its verdict before ruling early next year.