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French police target Islamist networks after teacher's beheading

French police on Monday, October 19, launched a series of raids targeting Islamist networks, 3 days after the beheading of a history teacher who had shown his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin vowed there would be "not a minute's respite for enemies of the Republic," after tens of thousands took part in rallies countrywide on Sunday to honor teacher Samuel Paty and defend freedom of expression.

Fifteen people have been detained so far, including 4 pupils who may have helped the killer – an 18-year-old of Chechen origin who was killed by police – to identify the teacher in return for payment.

Law enforcement carried out 40 raids on Monday, mostly around Paris, with many more planned.

"We want to harass and destabilize this movement in a very determined way," one ministry source said.

Darmanin said the government would also tighten its grip on institutions and charities with suspected links to Islamist networks.

Free speech debate

Paty, 47, was attacked on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40 kilometers (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, Abdullakh Anzorov, who arrived in France with his family from the predominantly Muslim Russian region of Chechnya more than a decade ago.

Four members of the killer's family are among those detained by the police.

The killing has drawn parallels with the 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, where 12 people, including cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing cartoons of Mohammed.

Paty had shown his civics class one of the controversial cartoons after first giving Muslim children the option to leave the classroom.

But the lesson nonetheless caused uproar. 

The father of one of Paty's pupils launched an online campaign against the teacher and has now been arrested along with a known Islamist radical.

Darmanin accused the pair of in effect issuing a "fatwa" against Paty.

Officials named two groups they would target for closure – the Collective Against  Islamophobia in France that claims to monitor attacks against Muslims and BarakaCity, which describes itself as a humanitarian organization.

In a social media post, BarakaCity accused Darmanin of "going mad" and said he was taking advantage of a tragedy.

Darmanin also ordered the closure of a mosque in the Parisian suburb of Pantin, accusing its imam of encouraging intimidation of the teacher and publicizing the address of the school.

Meanwhile Paris prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into a French neo-Nazi website hosted abroad that republished the photo of Paty's decapitated corpse posted to Twitter by the killer.

'Can't give in to fear'

French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom.

One education expert warned Monday that the murder might deter teachers from tackling touchy topics in future.

"There's a huge amount of self-censorship," said Jean-Pierre Obin, a former inspector for the French education system. "We must fear that there will now be more."

But Jonathan Renoir, a 26-year old history teacher at a junior high school in Cergy near Paris, said: "We can't give in to fear, we must continue to talk about controversial things in class."

Emotions were still running high outside Paty's school on Monday, where Muslim leaders gathered to offer condolences and distance their religion from the atrocity. 

"It is very important to come here to show our sorrow, to show that what happened here is not Islam. It was done by thugs who have nothing to do with Islam," said Kemadou Gassama, an imam in Paris.

And the political temperature was also rising, with President Emmanuel Macron launching the anti-Islamist effort by promising that "fear is about to change sides."

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen – likely to face Macron in a 2022 presidential election – called for "wartime legislation" and an immediate moratorium on immigration.

Paty's beheading was the second knife attack since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings.

The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the publication's former office. – Rappler.com