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French police raid Islamist groups after teacher's beheading

The raids came a day after tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide to honour teacher Samuel Paty and defend freedom of expression, including the right to show cartoons regarded by many Muslims as insulting.

FILE: French police at the scene of a crime. Picture: AFP

PARIS - French police on Monday swooped on radical Islamist groups three days after the beheading of a teacher who had shown his pupils satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The raids came a day after tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide to honour teacher Samuel Paty and defend freedom of expression, including the right to show cartoons regarded by many Muslims as insulting.

Gerald Darmanin said the swoop on Islamist networks was designed to send a message that "enemies of the Republic" would not enjoy "a minute's respite".

Sources close to the operation told AFP that individuals targeted in the police operation were known to the police for radical preachings or hate speech on social media.

Darmanin said the government would also tighten the noose on NGOs with links to Islamist networks, including the high-profile Anti-Islamophobia Collective.

'I AM SAMUEL'

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

"Islamists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country," he said.

The attack has drawn parallels with the 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, where 12 people, including several cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing images of the prophet.

That attack - the first in a string of assaults that have killed over 240 people in France - brought over a million people onto the streets of Paris to denounce extremism.

On Sunday, people again congregated on Place de la Republique in Paris, where world leaders had marched alongside the French in 2015.

Some in the crowd chanted "I am Samuel", echoing the 2015 "I am Charlie" rallying call by supporters of free speech.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who laid a wreath outside Paty's school northwest of Paris 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.

TEACHER TARGETED BY FATWA

Paty, 47, was murdered on his way home from the school where he taught in a suburb northwest of Paris on Friday afternoon.

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.

Anzorov's family from the predominantly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya arrived in France to seek asylum when he was six.

Four members of his family are being held for questioning.

They are among 11 people being held over the attack, including a known Islamist militant and the father of one of Paty's pupils who had railed against him online and called for his dismissal.

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

"They apparently launched a fatwa against the teacher," the minister told Europe 1 radio.

Paty, who was praised by pupils and parents as a dedicated teacher, had shown the Muhammad cartoons to his civics class.

According to his school, he had given Muslim children the option to leave the classroom before he showed the cartoons, saying he did not want their feelings hurt.

'WE ARE NOT AFRAID'

French authorities have vowed to pursue the authors of some 80 online messages of sympathy for Anzorov and step up security at schools when pupils return after half-term.

On Sunday, demonstrators on the Place de la Republique held aloft posters declaring: "No to totalitarianism of thought", and "I am a teacher".

"You do not scare us. We are not afraid. You will not divide us. We are France!" tweeted Prime Minister Jean Castex, who joined the Paris demonstration.

Friday's attack was the second of its kind since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings.

The magazine republished the controversial cartoons in the run-up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside Charlie Hebdo's former office.

As the Charlie Hebdo trial resumed on Monday, presiding judge Regis de Jorna expressed the court's sadness over Paty's killing, saying "he died simply because he had passed on to his students what freedom of thought and freedom of expression represent".

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