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Crowds gathered across France on Sunday to pay tribute to Samuel Paty, the 47-year-old history teacher, who was beheaded after reportedly showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a civics class.
Rallies formed in cities such as Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Marseille and Bordeaux. Thousands gathered at Paris’ Place de la République, which Huffington Post France reported was at times filled with applause, the French national anthem and a solemn minute of silence.
Participants in demonstrations across the country wore signs saying “I am Samuel” and “I am a teacher”, according to the BBC.
France is wavering from the murder that took place in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Friday.
According to police, an 18-year-old Chechen refugee attacked Paty near the school and cut his throat before posting a graphic responsibility claim on social media. The police fatally shot the attacker after he acted threateningly and did not respond to orders to disarm, the authorities said.
Shortly thereafter, President Emmanuel Macron described it as an “Islamist terrorist attack” and said the teacher was targeted for “teaching free speech”.
Jean-François Ricard, France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor, said Paty received death threats after allegedly showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a free speech class.
Muslim belief forbids depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. The BBC reported that Paty had advised Muslim students in the class to look the other way if they expected to be offended.
Paty’s lesson sparked some angry reactions when a parent accused Paty of showing representations of the prophet naked, the BBC said. This parent filed a formal complaint asking people to protest at the school.
The lesson was related to the ongoing trial of the 2015 attack in the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdowho came under fire for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Islamist extremists killed 12 people and 14 accused are charged with providing logistical assistance to the armed men.
And late last month after the trial began, two people were wounded in an attack near the former offices of the magazine that authorities are investigating as a possible terrorist act.
Ricard’s office said Friday that a terrorist investigation had opened and authorities had arrested nine suspects, including several members of the attacker’s family. According to Reuters, the number of those arrested rose to 11 on Sunday.
Political and religious leaders in France have outraged the murder and called for solidarity.
French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer on Saturday stressed the need for unity within the educational community and called on the French to be proud of their values of freedom, equality and fraternity.
“Secularism is key, it allows us to have differences, to believe or not to believe and to respect one another,” said Blanquer. “And everyone knows today that this was attacked.”
Marlène Schiappa, France’s junior minister for citizenship, condemned the attack in a series of tweets, saying she would take part in the demonstration on Sunday “in support of teachers, secularism, freedom of expression and against Islamism”.
Many of the participants were teachers themselves, according to France 24, and spoke of being shocked and saddened by the murder.
“I came here as a kindergarten teacher to defend my educational mission and to sharpen my students’ critical thinking skills,” said one. “It makes me want to teach more. There will be a before and an after of this terrible event.”
Another protester told the network that people had gathered “to just be together”.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo were among the thousands of demonstrators in Paris on Sunday. Both shared messages of strength and support on social media.
“They won’t part us,” Castex tweeted alongside a video of crowds singing the national anthem. “We are France!”
Outrage and sympathy have also penetrated from outside the country.
The secretary general of the 57-nation organization for Islamic Cooperation condemned the attack on Sunday, reiterating that he opposed “all forms of extremism, radicalization and terrorism for any reason or motive”.
And during a campaign rally in Wisconsin on Saturday night, President Trump Macron expressed condolences for a “vicious, vicious Islamic terrorist attack”.
Reuters reports that a national tribute to Paty will be held in France on Wednesday.