Paris (CNSNews.com) – The French government has ordered the closure for six months of a radical mosque in suburban Paris as it grapples with the fallout over the beheading of a teacher who had raised Muslims’ ire by showing students a caricature of Islam’s prophet while speaking about the importance of freedom of speech.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has instructed the area’s prefect to close the mosque in Pantin for six months, after it posted on its Facebook page a video denouncing Samuel Paty for showing students an image portraying Mohammed.
“The head of the mosque relayed a message saying that this teacher should be intimidated and he revealed the address of the college where he worked,” Darmanin said.
The mosque, which draws around 1,300 regularly for prayers, is led by a Yemen-trained imam.
The murder of the 47 year-old history and geography teacher outside his junior high school last Friday has shocked the country, prompting strong reactions and calls for the government and lawmakers to find a solution to the spread of radical Islamist ideas.
The killer, 18 year-old Chechen Abdouallakh Anzorov, waited for Paty outside the school and beheaded him before fleeing to a nearby city, where he was shot dead by police.
Investigators found out that some of Paty’s students had been in contact with Anzorov, who did not himself know the teacher. One student in custody admitted having accepted money from the killer to identify the teacher.
After Paty showed students the caricature of Mohammed, several parents criticized him and demanded that he be fired. Abdelhakim Sefrioui, a prominent French-Moroccan Islamist activist, was among those who called on social media for Paty’s dismissal from the school.
Many Muslims consider any images of the prophet who founded Islam in the seventh century to be blasphemous.
Hate messages and criticisms were posted on social media, and Anzorov posted a photo of his decapitated victim on Twitter. It was quickly removed.
According to Darmanin 16 people are under arrest as investigators try to determine exactly what happened, and whether Anzorov acted alone or received outside help. They include five students, the father of a student – who posted on his Facebook page an account of the teacher’s actions and demands for his removal – and Sefrioui.
Darmanin also announced that 231 foreigners who are on the government’s S-List will be deported in the coming days. The list is a confidential register of suspects regarded as potentially dangerous and subject to surveillance by police and intelligence agencies.
Marlène Schiappa, the minister in charge of citizenship, met on Tuesday with executives from Twitter, Facebook, Google, TikTok, Snapchat and Wikipedia to discuss how to counter online hate. No details of the discussion were released afterwards.
President Emmanuel Macron visited the school and deplored the killing. Critics on the left and right wings have accused his government of inertia and impotence in dealing with the issue of radicalization, demanding tougher action against imams who preach hate and known activists listed by intelligence agencies.
Teachers speaking to media expressed support for Paty while also speaking of fears about their safety, especially in public schools in high-immigrant areas.
French Islamic leaders expressed disgust over the killing and condolences with the teacher's family and colleagues. A dozen imams visited the school on Monday to pray for Paty. Local imam Hassen Chalghoumi asked for forgiveness, “because the teacher was beheaded in the name of our religion.”
Meskine Dhaou, spokesman for the Council of Imams of France – an organization tasked with overseeing imams’ training and sermons – said it was stunned by Paty’s murder and “we cannot understand what has happened.”
He said he suspects that if the parents of students who demanded Paty’s removal had known where it would lead they would not have done it.
Dhaou also noted that Sefrioui, the Islamist activist currently under investigation, was formerly a member of the council but is no longer, and is not permitted to speak in its name.