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Six young people convicted in France for roles in an Islamic extremist’s beheading of a teacher

A Republican Guard member holds a portrait of Samuel Paty.
A Republican Guard member holds a portrait of slain teacher Samuel Paty in the courtyard of Sorbonne University in Paris during a national memorial event on Oct. 21, 2020.
(Francois Mori / Associated Press)
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A French juvenile court on Friday convicted six young people for their roles as teenagers 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 Muhammad during a debate on free expression. The attacker, a young Chechen who had become radicalized, was killed by police.

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

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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 defendants — all students at Paty’s school — testified that they didn’t 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 checkups.

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

Paty’s name was disclosed on social media after a class debate on free expression during which he showed caricatures of Muhammad published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The cartoons triggered an extremist massacre in the Charlie Hebdo newsroom in 2015.

French police say a teacher was killed and two other adults were wounded in a stabbing at a school in the northern city of Arras.

Oct. 13, 2023

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

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

The sixth defendant wrongly claimed that Paty had asked Muslim students to raise their hands and leave the classroom before he showed the class the cartoons of Muhammad.

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 mobilization against the teacher.

He and a radical Islamic activist who helped disseminate virulent messages against Paty are among eight adults who will face a separate trial for their suspected 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.

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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 radicalization.

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.

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