Meetings in dozens of cities across France were expected on Sunday in a show of solidarity and despite being beheaded by a teacher outside his school for showing students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
The cut-off of history teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb on Friday has sparked outrage in France and is reminiscent of a wave of Islamist violence in 2015 triggered by caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
“It is absolutely important to show our mobilization and our solidarity, our national cohesion,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told France 2, urging “everyone (to) support teachers”.
A rally was to take place in the Place de la République in Paris, a traditional protest venue where about 1.5 million people demonstrated in 2015 after a deadly attack on Islamist gunmen at Charlie Hebdo’s office.
Meetings were also expected in Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nantes, Marseille, Lille and Bordeaux.
Paty had been the target of online threats to show the cartoons in which the father of a schoolgirl launched an online call for “mobilization” against him, said France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard.
The 18-year-old suspect, named as Abdullakh A, was shot by police shortly after the attack.
The Russian embassy in Paris on Saturday said the suspect’s family had arrived in France from Chechnya when he was six and requested asylum.
The schoolgirl’s father and a well-known Islamist militant are among 10 arrested.
Ricard said the school received post-class threats in early October that included the controversial caricatures – one of the Prophet naked – with the girl’s father accusing Paty of disseminating “pornography”.
The offended father named Paty and disclosed the school’s address in a social media post a few days before the beheading that President Emmanuel Macron has labeled an Islamist terrorist attack.
‘Immersed in religion’
Ricard did not say whether the attacker had any connections to the school, students or parents or had acted independently in response to the online campaign.
Witnesses said he was seen at the school Friday afternoon and asked students where he could find Paty.
A photograph of Paty and a message confessing to his murder were found on the attacker’s mobile phone.
The prosecutor said the attacker had been armed with a knife, a pistol and five cans. He had fired shots at police and tried to stab them when they locked him in.
He was shot again nine times, Ricard said.
The locals in the Normandy town of Evreux, where the attacker lived in the Madeleine district, described him as low-key.
Someone who had been to school with him said he had become noticeably religious in recent years.
“In the past he was involved in fights, but for the last two or three years he had calmed down” and had been “immersed in religion”, he said.
Friday’s attack was the second such incident since a trial began last month in the January 2015 massacre of Charlie Hebdo’s satirical magazine, which had published caricatures of the Prophet unleashing a wave of anger over the Islamic world.
The magazine republished the cartoons ahead of the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man injured two people with a meat clover outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices in Paris.
Ricard said Paty’s murder illustrated “the very high terrorist threat” that France still faces.
The attacker himself was not known to French intelligence, the prosecutor said.
An investigation is underway into “murders linked to a terrorist organization”.
The investigation will also look at a tweet from an account opened by the attacker and since it was shut down, which showed a picture of Paty’s head and described Macron as “the leader of the unbelievers”.
Macron’s office said a national tribute would be held for Paty on Wednesday.
On Saturday, hundreds of students, teachers and parents flooded Paty’s school to lay white roses.
Some had posters stating, “I’m a teacher” and “I’m Samuel” – repeating the cry “I am Charlie” that traveled the world after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo killings.
Martial, a 16-year-old student, said Paty had loved his job: “He really wanted to teach us things.”
According to parents and teachers, Paty gave Muslim children the opportunity to leave the classroom before showing the cartoons and saying he did not want their feelings hurt.
Virginie, 15, said Paty showed the cartoons every year as part of a discussion about freedom after the Charlie Hebdo attack.