Paris classmates paid by killer to identify French teacher beheaded in terror attack

Investigators believe Abdoullakh Anzorov received hundreds of euros before the crime

TOPSHOT - Relatives and colleagues hold a picture of Samuel Paty during the 'Marche Blanche' in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris, on October 20, 2020, in solidarity after a teacher was beheaded for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. His murder in a Paris suburb on October 16 shocked the country and brought back memories of a wave of Islamist violence in 2015. Paty, 47, was attacked on October 16 on his way home from the junior high school where he taught by 18-year-old Chechen man Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot dead by police. Following the attack, tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide to honour Paty and defend freedom of expression. / AFP / Bertrand GUAY
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French police investigating a suspected Islamist terror attack on a teacher, who had been targeted in a hate campaign after leading a classroom discussion on free speech, believe that at least one pupil was paid by the killer to identify his target.

The incident in which the 18-year-old Chechen refugee beheaded Samuel Paty in broad daylight has seen President Emmanuel Macron intensify his fight against Islamist extremist influence amid a wave of national mourning.

Anzorov attacked Mr Paty last Friday outside the Bois-d’Aulne high school at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine in Paris’s north-western suburbs.

The history and geography teacher, who was 47, had shown pupils cartoons from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo including an image of the Prophet Mohammed, to illustrate a lesson on the freedom of expression.

The killing has led to at least 15 arrests of those who had contact with Anzorov or were involved in an online campaign that has been likened to a fatwa against the teacher.

Anti-terrorism and intelligence investigators have reportedly discovered that Anzorov received hundreds of euros from an unidentified source to help him pay pupils to identify the teacher.

One boy of 15, among four pupils detained for questioning, has admitted receiving money for pointing Mr Paty out. It is not clear what, if anything, the killer told him about his intentions.

The latest developments in the investigation, widely reported by French media, are consistent with a statement by the anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard, that the killer had been seen in front of the school on Friday afternoon asking pupils for information.

The broadcaster France-Info, which said four pupils were suspected of accepting money, quoted the mother of one boy told by a schoolfriend: “Look at that man over there. He gave me money for telling him which one was Mr Paty.”

She said the friend spoke of receiving 300 euros ($352) and dismissed her son’s dismay. An hour later, Anzorov murdered the teacher and escaped from the scene but was later shot dead by police.

Suspect recently radicalised

Anzorov was unknown to anti-terrorism services but became radicalised six months ago according to his parents.

He travelled 80 kilometres from his home in Evreux to carry out his attack. He had no driving licence and police have also arrested a man who admitted to driving him, again without it being clear whether he knew of the mission.

Mr Macron has made sweeping proposals for combating extremism in French society which will be presented to his cabinet in December.

With his presidential term ending in 2022, he sees a need to counter claims by his main rival, the far-right Marine le Pen, that his responses to terrorism and Islamism in society are inadequate.

Doubts had been expressed about his ability to win a parliamentary majority for his anti-Islamism measures.

One opponent, Eric Diard, a centre-right republican MP from the Marseille area, has praised elements of the project and told The National the emotions aroused by the teacher's killing could strengthen the president's hand. He is still unsure whether Mr Macron's actions go far enough to satisfy the right of his centrist party.

Fear of Islamism pervades France

Since the murder of Mr Paty, disturbing reports have highlighted the extent to which Islamism is feared by some experts to have taken hold in France.

Jean-Pierre Obin, France's retired inspector general of national education, recently published a book entitled How We Let Islamism Penetrate Schools.

He sees the murder as a "turning point" in education but also a logical consequence of ISIS calls, after the 2015 terrorist attacks in France, for Muslim families to treat secular teaching as "open war" on them and to "fight and kill" in response.

"This act traumatises the educational community, [vindicating] those who want to face the facts on what is happening with Islamism in France, and at school in particular," Mr Obin told newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

“It disabuses that part of the left that undermines the gravity of the situation and says it concerns only a small number of establishments or that everything would be solved by more resources.

"Would this assassination have been prevented with 15 more supervisors? It's absurd. France has been designated as an enemy by the Islamists. The risk of further tragedies cannot be eliminated.”

Mr Macron has talked of sterner measures, promising ministers that “fear is about to change sides", ensuring that Islamists could not “sleep soundly in our country”.

On the orders of his interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, a mosque in another Parisian suburb, Pantin, has been forced to close for six months because an official shared an online video denouncing Mr Paty.

Mr Darmanin has also said he will propose the dismantling of the French Collective Against Islamophobia (CCIF), the Islamic charity BarakaCity and other organisations suspected of Islamist influences.

Head of far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) Marine Le Pen adjusts her protective face mask during a session of questions to the government at the National Assembly in Paris on October 20, 2020. / AFP / Christophe ARCHAMBAULT
The threat of Marine Le Pen is seen as a factor in President Macron's sweeping proposals to combat extremism. AFP

CCIF has been accused of equating secularism with Islamophobia while Idriss Sihamedi, the co-founder of BarakaCity, was freed on bail last week pending a court appearance over the alleged online harassment of a broadcaster.

In a tweet, the minister described the organisations as “enemies of the republic” and said it was time to stop being naïve and face reality: “There can be no accommodation with radical Islamism.”

Social media acting as an agent provocateur

Mr Paty’s colleagues issued a statement on Tuesday expressing deep concern about the impact of social media, where attacks on the teacher are thought to have played a significant role in provoking the murder.

Ferocious online reaction to the attack includes at least 80 messages of support for the killer, false claims by far-right figures that Mr Paty was about to be disciplined for his use of the cartoons and threats by CCIF, which condemned the killing, to take legal action for alleged defamation against those suggesting otherwise.