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October 19, 2020 12:14 pm

French Police Arrest Pro-Hamas Activist in Connection With Beheading of Paris School Teacher

avatar by Ben Cohen

Protestors in the Place de la Republique in Paris following the brutal murder of school teacher Samuel Paty. Photo: Panoramic / Reuters.

One of France’s most vocal Islamists was taken into police custody on Sunday in connection with the horrific murder of a high school teacher in broad daylight at the end of last week.

Abdelhakim Sefrioui, 61, had played a prominent role in organizing protests against Samuel Paty — a 47-year-old teacher of history and geography at a suburban Paris school who showed his students a set of controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a classroom discussion on freedom of speech.

On Friday afternoon, Paty was attacked as he walked home from school by a knife-wielding assailant who stabbed him in the head and then decapitated him with a dagger-shaped blade.

Eyewitnesses reported that the killer — an 18-year-old refugee from Chechnya named Abdoullakh Anzonov — shouted the words “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) as he slaughtered Paty.

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Anzonov was later shot dead by police after he fired on approaching officers with a handgun. Investigators discovered that Anzonov had sent a photo of Paty’s decapitated head to French President Emmanuel Macron on Twitter, with a message declaring that he had “taken revenge on the one who insulted the Prophet Muhammad.”

In the days leading up to his murder, Paty had been the target of protests from some Muslim parents at the school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a northwestern suburb of Paris, after he showed students cartoons of Muhammad believed by many Muslims to be blasphemous.

One of the parents sought the backing of Abdelhakim Sefrioui — a Moroccan-born Islamist described by one prominent French Muslim leader as “dangerous” — at a meeting with school officials.

On Thursday — the day before Paty’s killing — Sefrioui arrived at the school, where he filmed an interview with a female Muslim student, who claimed that Paty had told her she might want to “leave the class,” before showing students an image of a “naked man” who supposedly represented Muhammad. After meeting with members of the school management, Sefrioui issued a statement asserting that Muslim children “had been attacked and humiliated in front of their classmates.” He then demanded the immediate suspension of Paty, whom he referred to as “this thug.”

Sefrioui is well-known to French intelligence, whose agents have monitored his statements and activities for nearly 20 years, according to Bernard Godard, an expert on Islam and former adviser to France’s Interior Ministry, in an interview with the news outlet Marianne.

In 2011, the imam of the Parisian suburb of Drancy, Hassen Chalghoumi, was placed under police protection after Sefrioui denounced him as a “pawn of the Zionists.”

Chalghoumi told Marianne that Sefrioui was “dangerous because he seduces the youth.”

“He is more dangerous than [Islamist academic] Tariq Ramadan because he seduces the base, the parents,” Chalghoumi stated.

Much of Sefrioui’s activism has revolved around solidarity with the Palestinians, expressed through virulent anti-Zionism and antisemitism. In 2006, he campaigned on behalf of the presidential campaign of the comedian Dieudonné — who was recently banned across a host of social media platforms for his denial of the Holocaust denial and his crude antisemitism.

In 2014, as head of a collective of pro-Palestinian organizations named in honor of the late Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Sefrioui was a key organizer of demonstrations in Paris against Israel’s incursion into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, furiously asserting at one rally that the coastal enclave was “the worst concentration camp mankind has ever known.”

Sefrioui is a member of the Council of French Imams and speaks in its name, although the secretary-general of that organization openly disputed his right to do so in interviews with the French media over the weekend.

“Sefrioui does not have the right to speak on our behalf,” Daw Meskine of the Council of French Imams stated, when asked about the harassment of Paty. “It is a personal initiative, which in no way commits the council.”

Further raids on the homes of suspected Islamists by French police were reported on Monday, while the government announced an investigation into 51 different Muslim organizations and associations.

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