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Six French teenagers convicted over Islamic extremist’s killing of teacher

Flowers next to a placard reading ‘I am a teacher’ in tribute to Samuel Paty (Bertrand Guay, Pool via AP)
Flowers next to a placard reading ‘I am a teacher’ in tribute to Samuel Paty (Bertrand Guay, Pool via AP)

A French juvenile court has convicted six teenagers for their roles in the beheading of a teacher by an Islamic extremist that shocked the country.

Teacher Samuel Paty was killed outside his school in 2020 after showing his class cartoons of the prophet of Islam during a debate on free expression.

The attacker, a young Chechen who had been radicalised, was killed by police.

The court found five of the defendants, 14 and 15 at the time of the attack, guilty of staking out the teacher and identifying him for the attacker.

France Teacher Beheaded Trial
A Republican Guard holds a portrait of Samuel Paty in the courtyard of the Sorbonne university during a national memorial event (Francois Mori, Pool/AP)

Another defendant, 13 at the time, was found guilty of lying about the classroom debate in a comment that aggravated online anger against the teacher.

The teenagers – all students at Mr Paty’s school – testified that they did not know the teacher would be killed.

All were handed brief or suspended prison terms, and required to stay in school or jobs during the duration of their suspended terms with regular medical check-ups.

They left the courtroom without speaking. Some had their heads down as they listened to the verdicts. One appeared to wipe tears.

Mr Paty’s name was disclosed on social media after a class debate on free expression during which he showed prophet caricatures published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The publication had triggered a deadly extremist massacre in the Charlie Hebdo newsroom in 2015.

Mr Paty, a history and geography teacher, was killed on October 16 2020 near his school in a Paris suburb by attacker Abdoullakh Anzorov.

French President Emmanuel Macron paid his respects to teacher Samuel Paty
French President Emmanuel Macron paid his respects to teacher Samuel Paty (Francois Mori, Pool/AP)

The five who identified Mr Paty to the attacker were convicted of involvement in a group preparing aggravated violence.

The sixth defendant wrongly claimed that Mr Paty had asked Muslim students to raise their hands and leave the classroom before he showed the class the prophet cartoons. She was not in the classroom that day, and later told investigators she had lied. She was convicted of making false allegations.

Her father shared the lie in an online video that called for mobilisation against the teacher. He and a radical Islamic activist who helped disseminate virulent messages against Mr Paty are among eight adults who will face a separate trial for adults suspected of involvement in the killing, expected late next year.

The trial was held behind closed doors, and the media are not allowed to disclose the defendants’ identities according to French law regarding minors.

The proceedings come weeks after a teacher was fatally stabbed and three other people injured in northern France in October in a school attack by a former student suspected of Islamic radicalisation.

That killing occurred in a context of global tensions over the Israel-Hamas war and led French authorities to deploy 7,000 additional soldiers across the country to bolster security and vigilance.