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France to shut pro-Hamas group after murder; Macron vows action on Islamists

French authorities to close Paris mosque in clampdown on radical Islam following teacher’s grisly beheading; officials say killer was ‘in contact’ with one pupil’s dad

People attend the 'Marche Blanche' in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris, on October 20, 2020, in solidarity after a teacher was beheaded for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)
People attend the 'Marche Blanche' in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris, on October 20, 2020, in solidarity after a teacher was beheaded for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

PARIS, France — French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday a pro-Hamas group active in France would be dissolved for being “directly implicated” in the beheading of a history teacher outside Paris last week.

He also said “actions will be stepped up” against Islamist extremism in the country.

The decision to shut down the “Cheikh Yassine Collective,” which supports the Palestinian cause and is named after the founder of the Gaza-based terror organization, will be taken at a Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, he said.

The group’s founder and Islamist radical, Abdelhakim Sefrioui, is currently being held by police for publishing a video on YouTube insulting teacher Samuel Paty.

“This is not about making more statements,” Macron said during a visit to a Paris suburb. “Our fellow citizens expect actions. These actions will be stepped up.”

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the end of a visit on the fight against separatism at the Seine Saint Denis prefecture headquarters in Bobigny, northeastern suburbs of Paris, on October 20, 2020. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / various sources / AFP)

Prime Minister Jean Castex told MPs on Tuesday that the government was now targeting “all associations whose complicity with radical Islamism has been established.”

French authorities said they would close a Paris mosque in a clampdown on radical Islam that has yielded over a dozen arrests following the beheading of the teacher who had shown his pupils cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohammad.

The mosque in a densely-populated suburb northeast of Paris had published a video on its Facebook page days before Friday’s gruesome murder, railing against Paty’s choice of material for a class discussion on freedom of expression, said a source close to the investigation.

The interior ministry said the mosque in Pantin, which has some 1,500 worshippers, would be shut on Wednesday night for six months.

The suspected killer, 18-year-old Chechen Abdullakh Anzorov, had been in contact with a parent leading an online campaign against the teacher, the investigation into the killing revealed Tuesday.

The man wanted Paty fired after his daughter told him how the teacher had shown cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The parent — the father of a girl in Paty’s class — was behind an online campaign urging “mobilization” against the teacher.

The man, now in police custody, had placed his phone number on Facebook and exchanged messages with Anzorov on WhatsApp in the days leading up to the murder, police sources told AFP.

Among other messages, the father had published a video railing against Paty’s choice of lesson material. The mosque now targeted for a six-month closure shared this video on its own Facebook Page.

Paty, 47, was attacked Friday on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Paris. Anzorov was shot dead by police soon after the murder.

Police have arrested 16 people in connection with the killing, including four members of Anzorov’s family.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin vowed there would be “not a minute’s respite for enemies of the Republic.”

Relatives and colleagues hold a picture of Samuel Paty during the ‘Marche Blanche’ in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris, on October 20, 2020, in solidarity after a teacher was beheaded for showing pupils cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Tuesday that Paty would be posthumously bestowed France’s highest order of merit, the Legion of Honour.

The school said Paty had given Muslim pupils the choice to leave the classroom before he showed the cartoons. But the girl’s father was outraged by him displaying a caricature of the prophet naked, and sought Paty’s dismissal for disseminating “pornography.”

On Tuesday, the head of the Pantin mosque, M’hammed Henniche, said he had shared the father’s video out of fear that Muslim children were being singled out in class.

Five pupils suspected of accepting payment for pointing Paty out to his killer were among those in police custody.

‘The decapitated Republic’

Paty’s beheading was the second knife attack claimed in the name of avenging the Prophet since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings in 2015 when 12 people, including cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing Mohammad cartoons.

After Paty’s murder, Macron threatened that “fear is about to change sides.”

Junior interior minister Marlene Schiappa assembled French bosses of social networks Tuesday to discuss bolstering the “fight against cyber-Islamism.”

A woman holds a sign reading ‘Mr. Paty, we will never forget what you taught us: history and the values of the Republic’ during the ‘Marche Blanche’ on October 20, 2020, in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

Tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide over the weekend to honor Paty and defend freedom of expression.

The French parliament observed a minute of silence for Paty on Tuesday, while thousands gathered for a silent march in the teacher’s honor in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine in the evening.

Macron will attend an official homage with Paty’s family Wednesday at the Sorbonne university.

Darmanin has called for vigilance at schools to be bolstered when pupils return after the autumn break.

The next edition of Charlie Hebdo, meanwhile, will feature the headline “The decapitated Republic” on its front page along with cartoons representing various professions, the weekly said Tuesday.

“These murderers want to decapitate democracy itself,” reads the editorial to be published Wednesday.

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