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Thursday October 22nd, 2020 5:25PM

French premier joins nationwide tributes to beheaded teacher

By The Associated Press
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PARIS (AP) — France's prime minister joined demonstrators on Sunday who rallied together across the country in tribute to a history teacher who was beheaded near Paris after discussing caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad with his class.

The demonstrations came hours after U.S. President Donald Trump sent France a message of solidarity in the wake of the attack.

Samuel Paty was beheaded on Friday in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine by a 18-year-old Moscow-born Chechen refugee who was shot dead by police.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex stood with citizens, associations and unions demonstrating Sunday on the Place de la Republique in Paris in support of freedom of speech and in memory of the 47-year-old slain teacher.

Some held placards reading “I am Samuel" that echoed the “I am Charlie” rallying cry after the 2015 attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. A moment's silence was observed across the square, broken by applause and a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.

Demonstrators also gathered in major cities including Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nantes, Marseille, Lille and Bordeaux.

French authorities, meanwhile, say they have detained an 11th person following the killing.

Anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said an investigation for murder with a suspected terrorist motive was opened. At least four of those detained are family members of the attacker, who had been granted 10-year residency in France as a refugee in March, was armed with a knife and an airsoft gun, which fires plastic pellets.

His half-sister joined the Islamic State group in Syria in 2014, Ricard said. He didn’t give her name, and it wasn't clear where she is now.

The prosecutor said a text claiming responsibility and a photograph of the victim were found on the suspect’s phone. He also confirmed that a Twitter account under the name Abdoulakh A belonged to the suspect. It posted a photo of the decapitated head minutes after the attack along with the message “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down.”

The beheading has upset moderate French Muslims and a group of imams in the Lyon region are holding a special meeting Sunday to discuss what the group called "the appalling assassination of our compatriot by a terrorist who in the name of an uncertain faith committed the irreparable."

The head of the world’s largest body of Muslim-majority nations has also condemned the killing. In a statement Sunday by the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the office of the general secretary, Yousef al-Othaimeen, reiterated the OIC’s “well-known position of rejecting all forms of extremism, radicalization and terrorism for any reason or motive.”

The attack has provoked a strong international rebuke. U.S. President Donald Trump addressed the killing Saturday night from a political rally in Janesville, Wisconsin.

“On behalf of the United States, I’d like to extend my really sincere condolences to a friend of mine, President (Emmanuel) Macron of France, where they just yesterday had a vicious, vicious Islamic terrorist attack — beheading an innocent teacher near Paris," he said. “France is having a hard time and Macron’s a great guy.”

___

Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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