Teenagers Convicted in France in Connection With Teacher Samuel Paty’s Killing

Six teenagers were convicted by a court in Paris on Friday in connection with the attack on Samuel Paty, a history teacher whose killing by an Islamist extremist in 2020 shook France to its core.

Five of the defendants, former middle-school students at the school where Mr. Paty taught, were found guilty of helping the killer identify and track the teacher, although they were not believed to have known that he intended to kill.

They were convicted on charges of being involved in a criminal conspiracy to prepare a violent assault. Four received suspended prison sentences of 14 to 20 months. The fifth received a two-year prison sentence, with 18 months of it suspended and six months to be served under house arrest with an electronic bracelet.

Mr. Paty, 47, had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a civics class to illustrate free speech, and was subsequently beheaded because of the act on Oct. 16, 2020, near the school where he worked in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a northwestern suburb of Paris.

The assailant, Abdoullakh Anzorov, was an 18-year-old Russian of Chechen descent who had learned about Mr. Paty after the teacher became the target of an online smear campaign.

Mr. Anzorov had stalked Mr. Paty’s school the day of the killing and had enlisted the five teenagers’ help in exchange for about $320, telling them he wanted to confront Mr. Paty and force him to apologize. Mr. Anzorov was shot and killed by the police shortly after the attack.

A sixth defendant, a girl who was 13 at the time of the killing, was found guilty of making false allegations against Mr. Paty. She received an 18-month suspended prison sentence.

Officials did not publicly name the defendants, who were tried behind closed doors by a criminal court for minors because they were not adults at the time of the attack. The defendants, five of whom are still minors, walked in and out of the courtroom on Friday wearing masks, hoodies or sunglasses to shield their faces.

The court ordered that all of them adhere to a range of obligations for several years, including requirements that they stay in school or get a job for the duration of their sentences, that they get regular medical checkups, and that they work with specialized educators. If the defendants do not follow those obligations or if they commit another crime they face being sent to prison.

A separate trial for eight adults who have been charged in the case is expected to be held next year.

Mr. Paty’s killing came after much larger terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016 that left hundreds of people dead. But his killing and the nature of the violence was devastating in a different way and continues to haunt the country.

Teachers in France, who play a crucial role in imparting the French Republic’s values of liberty, equality, fraternity and secularism, are seen as the first line of defense of a public school system that many fear is increasingly under threat from Islamic extremism.

Those fears have been heightened in recent months by small but deadly Islamist terrorist attacks.

In October, almost three years to the day after Mr. Paty’s murder, another teacher was killed at his school in northern France in ominously similar circumstances. The suspect in that case is a former student at the school, a 20-year-old Russian immigrant who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State before going on a stabbing spree in which he also injured three other people.

Then, last week, a man with psychiatric disorders and a history of radicalization killed a German tourist near the Eiffel Tower and injured several other people with a knife and a hammer, an attack that put the country further on edge.

Virginie Le Roy, a lawyer for Mr. Paty’s family, said the court’s sentencing was too light, sending the “wrong signal” as France faces increased threats.

“A man who is beheaded in the street, that’s not nothing,” she said. “The punishment doesn’t fit the bill.”

Prosecutors had accused five of the defendants of helping Mr. Anzorov identify and track Mr. Paty, including by keeping watch outside his school, by telling Mr. Anzorov what the teacher looked like, and by pointing him out as he left the school

The presiding judge said on Friday that the defendants knew full well when Mr. Anzorov approached them that Mr. Paty had been targeted by a vicious online campaign and yet showed no reluctance in helping him.

Defense lawyers argued that their clients, who were ages 14 to 15 at the time of the killing, did not know that Mr. Anzorov intended to kill Mr. Paty and were deeply remorseful for their role in his death.

“This is not a case that will fade from his memory,” Dylan Slama, a lawyer for one of the convicted minors, said of his client after the ruling. “It will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

Mr. Paty, who taught civics, had shown the students caricatures published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo — itself the target of a massacre in 2015 — to illustrate the right to blasphemy, free speech and freedom of conscience.

The sixth defendant, the girl, had told her parents at the time that Mr. Paty had singled out Muslim students in the classroom, asking them to leave before he showed the caricatures. In reality, the girl had not attended that class and Mr. Paty had not ordered Muslim students to leave the classroom.

She had been given a two-day suspension from school for unrelated reasons, but told her parents that she had been punished for complaining to Mr. Paty about the caricatures — a “persistent lie” that she acknowledged at trial, the court said.

The girl’s false account set off a tragic chain reaction. Her father spread the girl’s claims on social media. When Mr. Anzorov, who lived nearly 60 miles away, learned of the controversy, he then set out to kill Mr. Paty.

Francis Szpiner, a lawyer for Mr. Paty’s former partner, said that she was “dismayed” by the sentences, which fell short of the two and a half years of actual prison time that the defendants could have faced.

“Even though we are before a court for minors,” he said, “some of the people who were judged had a major role.”

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