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Six teens stand trial for allegedly inciting beheading of French teacher who showed Muslim cartoon

Six teenagers are standing trial in Paris on Monday on charges of inciting the 2020 beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty, who showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a class discussion on the French values of freedom of expression and secularism. 

Five of the charged minors, who were between the ages of 14 and 15 at the time of the attack, are accused of waiting for Paty for several hours until he left their school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb near Paris, and helping the 18-year-old Abdoullakh Anzorov, a Moscow-born Chechen refugee and Islamic extremist, identify the teacher in exchange for promised payments of between 300-350 euros ($348-$406). Authorities say Anzorov stabbed and beheaded Paty outside the school on Oct. 16, 2020. Anzorov was shot and killed by police.

The youngest suspect, a 13-year-old girl at the time of the murder, is accusing of lying to her father that she had been disciplined for confronting Paty, falsely claiming the teacher had asked Muslim students to raise their hands and leave the classroom before he showed the cartoons. 

The girl allegedly later told investigators she had lied, and an investigation showed Paty did not make such a request. The girl also had been suspended from school over an unrelated incident nine days before Paty’s murder, according to the BBC, and was not in the classroom when Paty showed caricatures published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which triggered a newsroom massacre by Islamic extremists in January 2015, during a debate on free expression. 

FRENCH STUDENT ADMITS HER LIE GOT TEACHER SAMUEL PATY BEHEADED

Nevertheless, the girl’s false allegation prompted her father, Brahim Chnina, to post videos on social media calling for mobilization against the teacher. Prosecutors believe the videos inspired Anzorov to travel some 50 miles from Normandy to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine to carry out Paty’s slaying.

The trial is scheduled to end on Dec. 8. All six teenagers are facing two and a half years in prison if convicted. 

All hearings at a Paris juvenile court are to be held behind closed doors in accordance with French law regarding minors. The defendants arrived Monday morning at the Paris court, their faces hidden behind masks and hoods, accompanied by their families, according to The Associated Press, which added that the media are not allowed to disclose their identities.

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Louis Cailliez, the lawyer for Paty’s sister, Mickaëlle, said she wants “to understand the real causes” that led the students to commit something irreparable. He pointed to the “fatal combination of little acts of cowardice, big lies, calumnies, arrangements, complicity and help without which Samuel Paty would still be alive.”

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“Without the denunciation, there would be no visibility (on the social media), without visibility, there would be no crime,” the lawyer said.

The lawyer for one of the defendants, Antoine Ory, said his client is “tormented by remorse and very much afraid of the confrontation with Mr. Paty’s family.” 

Samuel Paty poster on display with French police officer

He said the teenager “obviously didn’t know about the criminal plan” of the killer. 

The trial comes six weeks after another teacher was fatally stabbed and three other people injured in a school attack in the northern city of Arras by a former student suspected of Islamic radicalization. The killing, which came during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, led French authorities to deploy 7,000 additional soldiers across the country to bolster security and vigilance.

Chnina is among eight adults to stand a separate trial that will open next year in connection to Paty’s killing. 

Among those defendants are two of Anzorov’s friends charged with “complicity in a terrorist murder” – the most serious offense to be brought in the case. A radical Islamic activist who allegedly helped Chnina disseminate the virulent messages naming Paty has also been charged.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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