On Tuesday the French authorities said that they would close the Paris mosque as part of a clampdown on radical Islam that has yielded over a dozen arrests following the beheading of a teacher who had shown his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad.
The mosque in a densely-populated suburb northeast of Paris had disseminated 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 that the mosque in Pantin, which has some 1,500 worshippers, would be shut down on Wednesday night for six months. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin who vowed on Monday there would be “not a minute’s respite for enemies of the Republic” had asked regional authorities to carry out the mosque closure. And, on Monday, police launched a series of raids targeting Islamist networks.
Paty, 47, was attacked on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40 kilometres (25 miles) northwest of Paris. 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 Abdullah Anzorov, who also posted images of the decapitated body on Twitter.
The murder was preceded by a fierce online campaign against Paty and the schools, led by the father of a schoolgirl who accused the teacher of disseminating “pornography” for showing a cartoon of the prophet naked. The school said Paty had given Muslim pupils the choice to leave the classroom, but the lessons nevertheless caused an uproar.
The father who posted the video shared by the Pantin mosque is among 15 people arrested after the killing, along with a known Islamist 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, Mohammed Henniche, said he had shared the video, not “validate” the complaint about the cartoon, but out of concern for Muslim children being singled out in class. Four pupils suspected of accepting payment for pointing Paty out of his killer were also in custody on Monday.
Tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide on Sunday to honour Paty and defend freedom of expression. Darmanin vowed the government would also tighten its grip on charities with suspected links to Islamist networks.
The 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 Mohammed.