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France: 6 teens go on trial over 2020 teacher beheading

November 27, 2023

Samuel Paty was killed by a suspected Islamist after showing cartoons of Prophet Mohammad to his class. Five teenagers are charged with identifying the teacher to his killer for payment.

Commemorative plaque for slain teacher Samuel Paty
Samuel Paty was targeted by Anzorov for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during a lesson on free speech lawsImage: Bertrand Guay/REUTERS

The trial of six teenagers linked to the 2020 beheading of teacher Samuel Paty — a case that shocked France — began on Monday in Paris.

Paty, a 47-year-old history and geography teacher, was stabbed and then beheaded near his secondary school in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine by an 18-year-old suspected radical Islamist, who was identified as Abdoullakh A.

The assailant, a Russian-born Chechen refugee, was shot dead by the police soon after the attack.

The teens — aged 14 to 15 at the time — face charges of criminal conspiracy and false accusation, with possible sentences of up to 2.5 years.

The trial is set to be held in juvenile court until December 8, and is part of a wider investigation that includes eight adults.

What are the charges against the teenagers?

The five teenagers who arrived at the juvenile court on Monday holding up their coats to cover their faces, some wearing sunglasses and surgical masks, are charged with identifying Paty to his killer for payment.

The sixth, aged 13 then, faces charges for falsely claiming Paty singled out Muslim students before showing controversial cartoons after it was established that she was not in class when the incident occurred.

"The role of the minors was fundamental in the sequence of events that led to his assassination," said Virginie Le Roy, a lawyer representing Paty's family.

During questioning, the teens stated they only expected Paty to face online criticism or minor physical harm, and did not imagine "it would go as far as murder."

The trial of eight adults involved in the murder is set for next year, with details from the juvenile trial remaining confidential until then.

French teachers in danger

Cartoons of Prophet Mohammad incited anger

Paty was targeted by threats and online abuse for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during a lesson on free speech laws in France.

Many Muslims consider any portrayal of the Prophet to be blasphemous.

In 2015, when the magazine initially published these images, Islamic gunmen attacked its office, killing 12 people.

ss/fb (AFP, Reuters, dpa)