PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron paid national tribute Wednesday to teacher Samuel Patti, who was beheaded after showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in class as part of a free speech lesson.
Speaking in front of the illuminated 17th-century façade of the Sorbonne University in Paris, Mr Macron described Mr Patti as a symbol of France’s enlightenment values and the fight against Islamist extremists who have killed more than 200 people in France over the past five years. .
“Samuel Patti became the face of our republic on Friday, of our determination to defeat terrorists, to reduce Islamists, to live as a community of free citizens in our country,” Mr Macron said. “We will not give up cartoons, drawings, even if others give way,”
In a private ceremony before the speech, the French leader posthumously awarded the Legion of Honor – France’s highest civilian honor – to Mr Paty, in front of his family at the monumental Grand Amphitheater at the Sorbonne. Mr Patti’s parents, his brother and sister, and his 5-year-old son were among those present.
The soldiers then carried Mr Paty’s coffin across the square in front of the Sorbonne to U2’s song “One”, which was chosen by Mr Paty’s family.
A teacher read a poem by French singer Gowen Sears, written in honor of the 47-year-old history professor. Mr. Patty’s student read a letter written by Albert Camus to his teacher a few days after winning the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Mr Patti was killed Friday night in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb of Paris, in a gruesome attack that shocked the nation. The suspect, an 18-year-old Russian citizen of Chechen descent identified by authorities as Abdullah Abuezidvich Anzorov, was shot dead by police minutes after the attack.
The attack sparked repression by French authorities against Islamic associations, schools and mosques, which they said promoted an extreme version of the Muslim faith and challenged the nation’s secular political values.
The government said 51 such groups would be visited by authorities this week, and some had been disbanded. Prior to the attack, Mr Macron’s government was drafting new legislation that sought to combat what he called “Islamic separatism”.
Imams from all over the country condemned the attack. “Muslims in France are horrified by this heinous crime,” wrote Mohamed Moussaoui, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, in a column published in a local newspaper on Sunday.
Authorities said Mr Patti’s attacker acted after seeing videos made by a parent of a school student who demanded the teacher’s dismissal and called him a thug. Days earlier, Mr Patti had debated in his class on the limits of free speech and showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine targeting the 2015 terrorist attack.
The teacher – according to authorities who interviewed him for the lesson before his death – said he had warned students who might be offended to look away before showing the cartoons.
Mr Macron described Mr Patti as a conscientious teacher who sought to teach the Muslim faith to some of his students.
“He had read the Qur’an, he respected his disciples, regardless of their beliefs, he was interested in Muslim civilization,” Mr Macron said.
The parent who posted the videos condemning Mr Patti said his daughter was in Mr Patti’s class. Anti-terror prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said on Wednesday that the man’s daughter did not attend the lesson on the day Mr Patti showed the cartoons.
Prosecutors on Wednesday filed preliminary charges of terror against seven people, including the unnamed father and two students.
Mr Ricard said children between the ages of 14 and 15 received between 300 and 350 euros (equivalent to between $ 356 and $ 416) from the attacker, who was lurking outside the school to identify Mr Patti.
Anzorov killed him shortly after class, leaving his body on the street, officials said. Mr Ricard said the Chechen teenager had then claimed responsibility for the attack in a Twitter post saying Mr Patti had abandoned the Prophet Muhammad.
Three of the attacker’s friends were also detained by police, Mr Ricard said. Police suspect two of them of helping him buy the knife with which the professor was beheaded and took him to the school. The three men told police they knew nothing about the suspect’s plans, he said.
Write to Noemie Bisserbe at firstname.lastname@example.org and Matthew Dalton at Matthew.Dalton@wsj.com
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