French juvenile court convicts 6 over roles in teacher’s beheading

A French juvenile court on Friday convicted six teenagers for their roles in the beheading of a teacher by an Islamist extremist that shocked the country.

Teacher Samuel Paty was killed outside his school in 2020 after showing his class cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad during a debate on free expression. The attacker, a young Chechen who had radicalized, was killed by police.

The court found five of the defendants, who were 14 and 15 at the time of the attack, guilty of staking out the teacher and identifying him for the attacker. Another defendant, who was 13 at the time, was found guilty of lying about the classroom debate in a comment that aggravated online anger against the teacher.

The teenagers — all students at Paty’s school — testified that they didn’t know the teacher would be killed. All were handed brief or suspended prison terms, and required to stay in school or jobs during the duration of their suspended terms with regular medical checkups.

They left the courtroom without speaking. Some had their heads down as they listened to the verdicts. One appeared to wipe away tears.

WATCH | Macron’s defence of Muhammad cartoons prompts protests: 

Macron’s defence of Muhammad cartoons prompts protests in Muslim-majority countries

There have been angry protests in many Muslim-majority countries against France with demonstrators calling for boycotts of French products after President Emmanuel Macron defended cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which are considered blasphemous.

Paty’s name was disclosed on social media after a class debate on free expression during which he showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The publication had triggered a deadly extremist massacre in the Charlie Hebdo newsroom in 2015.

Paty, a history and geography teacher, was killed on Oct. 16, 2020, near his school in a Paris suburb by attacker Abdoullakh Anzorov.

The five who identified Paty to the attacker were convicted of involvement in a group preparing aggravated violence.

The sixth defendant wrongly claimed that Paty had asked Muslim students to raise their hands and leave the classroom before he showed the class the cartoons. She was not in the classroom that day, and later told investigators she had lied. She was convicted of making false allegations.

PHOTOS | Demonstrators across France rally in tribute to Paty: 

Her father shared the lie in an online video that called for mobilization against the teacher. He and a radical Islamist activist who helped disseminate virulent messages against Paty are among eight adults who will face a separate trial for adults suspected of involvement in the killing, expected late next year.

The trial was held behind closed doors, and the media are not allowed to disclose the defendants’ identities according to French law regarding minors.

The proceedings come weeks after a teacher was fatally stabbed and three other people injured in northern France in October in a school attack by a former student suspected of Islamist radicalization. That killing occurred in a context of global tensions over the Israel-Hamas war and led French authorities to deploy 7,000 additional soldiers across the country to bolster security and vigilance.

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