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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 allegedly showing drawings of the Prophet Muhammad during a civic lesson.
Rallies formed in cities including Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Marseille and Bordeaux. Thousands summoned to Paris’ Place de la République, as reported by the Huffington Post France, were at times filled with sounds of applause, the French national anthem and a solemn minute of silence.
Participants in demonstrations across the country carried signs titled “I am Samuel” and “I am a teacher,” according to the BBC.
France is recovering from the killing 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 liability on social media. Police fatally shot the attacker after he acted threateningly and did not respond to orders to disarm, authorities said.
Shortly afterwards, President Emmanuel Macron characterized it as “an Islamist terrorist attack” and said the teacher was targeted because he “taught freedom of speech.”
Jean-François Ricard, France’s accuser of terrorism, said Paty had received death threats after allegedly showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a class on freedom of speech.
The Muslim faith forbids depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. The BBC reported that Paty advised Muslim students in the class to look away if they expected to be offended.
Paty’s lesson got some angry reactions in which a parent accused Paty of showing depictions of the Prophet naked, the BBC said. This parent filed a formal complaint, urging people to protest at the school.
The lesson was related to the ongoing trial of the 2015 attack on the satirical magazine’s office in Paris Charlie Hebdo, who came under fire for his caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Islamist extremists killed 12 people and 14 defendants accused of giving gunmen logistical support.
And late last month, after the trial began, two people were injured in an attack near the magazine’s former offices, which authorities are investigating as a possible terrorist act.
Ricard’s office said Friday that a terrorist investigation had been opened and authorities had arrested nine suspects, including several members of the attacker’s family. The number of detainees rose to 11 on Sunday, according to Reuters.
Political and religious leaders in France have expressed anger over the killing and called for solidarity.
French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer on Saturday stressed the need for unity within the education community and more generally, urging French people to be proud of their values of freedom, equality and brotherhood.
“Secularism is the key, it allows us to have differences, beliefs or not beliefs and respect each other,” Blanquer said. “And today it is clear to everyone that this is what has been attacked.”
Marlène Schiappa, France’s junior minister for citizenship, condemned the attack in a series of tweets, saying she would take part in Sunday’s demonstration “in support of teachers, secularism, freedom of speech and against Islamism.”
Many of the participants were even teachers, according to France 24, and talked about being shocked and saddened by the killing.
“As a kindergarten teacher, I came here to defend my mission of educating, to sharpen my students’ critical thinking skills,” said one. “This makes me want to teach even more. There will be a before and after this awful event.”
Another protester told the network that people were gathered “just to be together.”
French Prime Minister Jean Castex and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo were among the thousands of protesters in Paris on Sunday. Both shared messages of strength and support on social media.
“You do not share us,” Castex tweeted along with a video of crowds singing the national anthem. “We are France!”
Evil and sympathy have also flowed in from countries outside the country.
The secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation with 57 Nations condemned the attack on Sunday, reiterating that it rejects “all forms of extremism, radicalization and terrorism for any reason or motive.”
And during a campaign rally in Wisconsin Saturday night, President Trump expressed his condolences to Macron for what he called a “vicious, vicious Islamic terrorist attack.”
Reuters reports that a national tribute to Paty will be held in France on Wednesday.