France’s Dragnet for Extremists Sweeps Up Some Schoolchildren, Too

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ALBERTVILLE, France — Armed with assault rifles and carrying balaclavas, dozens of law enforcement officials raided 4 residences just lately in a sprawling complicated in Albertville, a metropolis within the French Alps. They confiscated computer systems and cellphones, searched below mattresses and inside drawers, and took images of books and wall ornaments with Quranic verses.

Before the surprised households, the officers escorted away 4 suspects for “defending terrorism.”

“That’s impossible,” Aysegul Polat recalled telling an officer who left along with her son. “This child is 10 years old.”

Her son — together with two different boys and one woman, all 10 years previous — was accused of defending terrorism in a classroom dialogue on the liberty of expression at an area public college. Officers held the kids in custody for about 10 hours at police stations whereas interrogating their dad and mom concerning the households’ spiritual practices and the current republication of the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad within the journal Charlie Hebdo.

The fifth-grade classmates are amongst not less than 14 youngsters and youngsters investigated by the police in current weeks on accusations of creating inappropriate feedback throughout a commemoration for a instructor who was beheaded final month after displaying the cartoons in a category on freedom of expression.

As France grapples with a wave of Islamist assaults following the republication of the Charlie Hebdo caricatures, the case in Albertville and comparable ones elsewhere have once more raised questions concerning the nature of the federal government’s response. It has already been criticized, inside and exterior France, for actions and statements which have risked conflating peculiar French Muslims with individuals accused of extremism.

President Emmanuel Macron has fiercely rejected this criticism, blaming some Muslim and Western nations for failing to know France’s deep-rooted secularism, referred to as laïcité. In an interview with a media columnist for The New York Times, Mr. Macron complained about what he noticed because the world’s lack of help for France amid current assaults and accused the American information media, together with the Times, of “legitimizing this violence.”

To dispel misunderstanding, he invited journalists with questions on France to “call me. Call my team, call the ministers.’’ But after initially agreeing to an interview request for this article, the education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, declined Friday through a spokeswoman to speak, saying that he had already talked publicly about laïcité and considered The Times’s coverage biased.

The incidents in Albertville and elsewhere underscored the breadth of the government’s strong security response to the attacks, which has extended into the classroom and has drawn the criticism of organizations like the Human Rights League, one of the nation’s oldest rights groups. Calling the response disproportionate, the group asked, “Do children still have the right to speak?”

Sophie Legrand, a juvenile court docket decide and union official, stated that France was going by means of a “complex period” throughout which regulation enforcement could be severely blamed for “missing a sign and failing to carry out an investigation.”

“But it could prove to be counterproductive if it’s really only repression, right away,” she stated.

Still reeling from the beheading, lecturers got strict directions to report the slightest inappropriate remark, and the police to research, in keeping with interviews with lecturers, union representatives, and police and judicial officers.

“We’re completely in a context where the instructions are to not overlook anything, even the most trivial fact,” stated Emmanuel De Souza, a police commander who investigated the case of an 11-year-old in Saumur, in western France.

While the 4 youngsters in Albertville are actually again at school, the expertise has left them traumatized, the dad and mom stated. The youngsters are anticipated to observe an academic program below the justice ministry’s youth safety division, more likely to concentrate on problems with citizenship.

One of the boys, Sohib Harid, wetted himself in his sleep after the raid and stated he was now afraid to speak at school. “If I talk,” he stated, “there will be the police.”

The youngsters and youngsters obtained into hassle for talking throughout classroom commemorations and discussions of Samuel Paty, the center college instructor who was beheaded final month in against the law that shocked France and reopened the psychological wounds of assaults by Islamist terrorists which have left greater than 250 lifeless lately.

In a nation with hundreds of thousands of public college college students, the commemorations and discussions went effectively over all. But afterward, in keeping with the training ministry, 400 incidents have been reported, together with 150 instances associated to “defending terrorism.”

A justice ministry spokeswoman stated that 14 minors had been held in custody or interrogated in police stations, although she added that the determine won’t embody experiences from all native prosecutors. Cases involving the investigation of not less than 17 minors have been reported within the French information media.

If convicted on fees of “defending terrorism,” minors would usually need to take a category on citizenship or observe a social program, although the sentences may very well be harsher for older youngsters and relying on the infraction.

In a Paris suburb, a 17-year-old who repeatedly expressed help for the slain instructor’s killer is predicted to seem earlier than an investigating decide. Near Marseille, two 16-year-old boys have been arrested — one for endorsing the beheading, the opposite for refusing to cease listening to music with headphones in the course of the minute of silence.

Of 17 instances that resulted in police investigations, seven concerned Muslim college students and one a Roman Catholic, in keeping with interviews by The Times and the native information media; one had no faith, and the faith of the others couldn’t be decided. In not less than 14 of those instances, college students have been held in police custody, with most being accused of “defending terrorism.”

In France, public faculties have performed a central position in instilling nationwide values, together with laïcité, the strict secularism that separates faith from the state. So when Mr. Paty was decapitated, the killing was considered an assault on France and left an enduring trauma amongst lecturers.

The training minister, Mr. Blanquer, requested all public faculties to watch a minute of silence in tribute to the slain instructor on Nov. 2. A fierce advocate of laïcité, the minister warned that he wouldn’t tolerate disrespect.

“We are going to strengthen moral and civic education so that the stakes of the freedom of expression are explicit,” he stated in a radio interview a number of days later.

Beyond the minute of silence, lecturers got little steerage on tips on how to focus on the killing in school, resulting in confusion, in keeping with a number of lecturers and union officers.

“Everything was done in a rush without any real time for educational preparation,” stated Sophie Vénétitay, a instructor and union official. She added that lecturers got little alternative to resolve the incidents throughout the faculties and with the dad and mom, and {that a} judicial response prevailed.

In a center college close to Nice, a 14-year-old woman was arrested, held in custody for eight hours and subjected to a full-body search after questioning the tribute to the instructor after which, throughout a following debate, saying that “he had asked for it.” The woman, who just isn’t affiliated with any faith, apologized, stated her mom, who requested to be recognized solely by her first title, Magali.

The mom stated she disapproved of her daughter’s feedback, however described them as “a teenager’s blunder.” Her daughter is now seeing a psychiatrist and refuses to return to highschool.

The teenage woman has been summoned to seem earlier than a prosecutor in January on a cost of “defending acts of terrorism,” in keeping with court docket recordsdata obtained by The Times. She is predicted to be sentenced to a multiday class on citizenship.

Lilia Parisot, an official on the Nice regional training authority who confirmed the incident, stated that she had obtained clear tips from the training ministry to report any incident. “The orders were to overlook nothing,” she stated.

In Albertville, the 4 10-year-olds belong to households — three of Turkish and considered one of Algerian descent — who’ve lived within the metropolis for years. Some have older siblings who attended the identical small major college, Louis Pasteur.

In the classroom dialogue, the instructor requested the pupils whether or not he, too, may very well be beheaded if he confirmed caricatures of Muhammad, in keeping with interviews with two of the kids, 4 moms and two fathers.

Nathalie Reveyaz, an training official specializing in secularism within the area that features Albertville, confirmed that the instructor had requested that query, putting it within the context of caricatures in the course of the reign of Charlemagne.

The boys answered that the instructor may very well be beheaded, their dad and mom stated, however meant it as a press release of truth, not as a menace.

“The teacher said, ‘If I draw the prophet, what would you do?’” recalled Sohib, the boy now afraid to speak in school. “Well, I said, ‘There are other people who will come to kill you, like Samuel Paty.’”

Another boy, Yunus-Emre Akdag, stated that in “Islam, we don’t have the right to kill. It’s God who can give life, and it’s God who can take it,” in keeping with his mom, Mukaddes Akdag. Her son added in school, “If people show caricatures of our prophet, they will burn in the other world.”

The woman, Emira Yildirim, stated she had expressed remorse for the slain instructor, however added that “if he had not shown the caricatures, it wouldn’t have happened.”

The dad and mom stated that their youngsters’s remarks contained no menace, however merely didn’t match with what training officers needed to listen to within the present politicized local weather.

“The children said what they thought,” stated Emira’s mom, Zulbiye Yildirim.

Ms. Reveyaz, the training official, stated, “The teacher was shocked, shaken,” including that the feedback might mirror “what the children were hearing within their families.”

The subsequent day, the instructor grew to become alarmed after discovering an nameless letter whose writer stays unknown, she stated. “T mort,” it learn, “You’re dead.” The native prosecutor, Pierre-Yves Michau, was unavailable for an interview, his workplace stated.

After the raid, whereas the kids have been in custody, the police requested the dad and mom a sequence of questions: What did they consider the caricatures? Did they pray? Did they go to the mosque? Did they observe Ramadan? Did their husbands pressure them to put on veils?

“Strange questions,” Fatima Harid, Sohib’s mom, stated, asking why questions on their spiritual practices have been related. An officer informed her that her son, who described himself as Muslim throughout questioning, ought to say “French Muslim” as an alternative, she stated.

But the incident has left the dad and mom questioning whether or not they’ll ever be thought-about French.

The mom of Emira, Ms. Yildirim, 46, stated she had lived in France since age 6 and had attended its public faculties. Hers was an “integrated family,” she stated. Residents of Albertville for 19 years, she and her husband, a builder, run a household development enterprise. She was energetic on the college, usually volunteering on subject journeys. The couple even despatched their oldest daughter and son, now of their 20s, to a personal highschool — a Catholic establishment — for the standard of the training.

“I’m worried,” she stated, dropping off Emira in entrance of the first college the opposite morning. “I told my daughter, ‘You don’t say anything. When you’re asked a question in class, you say nothing.’”

Norimitsu Onishi reported from Albertville, and Constant Méheut from Paris.

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