Seven people, including two schoolchildren, will appear before a judge to face possible charges over the beheading of a teacher who showed his class caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor has said.
The announcement on Wednesday came as France prepared to pay tribute to Samuel Paty, who was decapitated outside his school last Friday, at a ceremony during which the president, Emmanuel Macron, was to posthumously award him the Légion d’Honneur.
The murder has shocked France and prompted a crackdown on Islamic extremism. Police have raided dozens of Islamist groups and suspected extremists, with several likely to be dissolved. A mosque near Paris is to close for six months.
The prosecutor, Jean-François Ricard, said that among the seven – who face potential charges including association with criminal terrorists and complicity in a terrorist assassination – were a parent at the school and an Islamist militant.
The parent, identified as Brahim C, posted statements and videos on Facebook naming Paty and the school and demanding the teacher be fired, Ricard said. The militant, named in media reports as Abdelhakim Sefrioui, had also posted on Facebook and YouTube describing Paty as a “thug” as part of an online hate campaign.
Ricard said the investigation would determine whether there was “a direct link of causality” between the two men’s actions and Paty’s murder. He said there was evidence the killer had been “directly inspired” by Sefrioui’s YouTube video in particular, since verbatim notes of it were found on his phone.
The French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, has accused the parent – who reportedly exchanged WhatsApp messages and phone conversations with the killer in the days before the attack – and Sefrioui of issuing a “fatwa” against Paty.
The teacher was stabbed and beheaded outside his secondary school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, about 20 miles north-west of Paris, by Abdullakh Anzorov, 18, of Chechen origin, who was shot dead by police soon afterwards. A photo of Paty and a message claiming responsibility for the murder were found on Anzorov’s phone, from which he tweeted images of the teacher’s decapitated corpse.
Three of Anzorov’s friends, two of whom are suspected of driving him to the area and helping him buy a knife and other weapons, also face possible charges, the prosecutor said, as well as two pupils, aged 14 and 15, who are suspected of having accepted €300-€350 (£270-£315) to point the teacher out to Anzorov as he left school for home.
Nine other people detained since the killing, including four members of Anzorov’s family, had been released, Ricard said.
Citing police sources, French media reported on Wednesday that Paty had told police investigating a formal complaint by the parent about the class – which his daughter did not attend – that he had not asked Muslim pupils to leave.
“I said I was going to show the two cartoons, and any pupil who thought they might find them offensive could look away,” the teacher reportedly said. The cartoons were shown alongside others of different subjects as part of a class on free expression.
The teacher received the full backing of the school’s principal and the local education authority in the days after the class, which took place on 5 October, the French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said.
The images were part of a series published by the magazine Charlie Hebdo that led to a deadly assault on its offices five years ago in which 12 people, including cartoonists, were killed.
Macron promised a clampdown on Islamist activity following the latest attack. “This cannot be about making new announcements,” he said on Tuesday. “Our fellow citizens expect acts. These acts will intensify.”
Darmanin said on Wednesday he had asked local authorities to put mosques in Bordeaux and Béziers in south-west France under police protection following threats or acts of violence.