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French Police Question 8-Year-Old Over Alleged Support For Paris Gunmen

French police questioned Wednesday an 8-year-old boy in the southern city of Nice who allegedly made comments praising the gunmen who staged the deadly attack on the weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Third-grader Ahmed, whose last name has not been released, refused to observe the minute of silence with his class following the attack on the magazine. He also allegedly expressed solidarity with the brothers who carried out the Jan. 7 attack.

"In the current context, the principal of the school decided to report to police what had happened," said Marcel Authier, who is in charge of the region's public security. "We summoned the child and his father to try and comprehend how an 8-year-old boy could hold such radical ideas."

Authier said, "Obviously, the child doesn't understand what he's saying," adding that no complaint had been filed against the boy.

His comments were reported by Agence France-Presse.

The lawyer for the boy's family, Sefen Guez Guez, said on French TV that the boy was trying to show his opposition to Charlie Hebdo's depictions of Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Some Muslims frown upon any depiction of their prophet — even positive ones.

"This incident is absurd and shows the state of tension and collective hysteria that has gripped the country," he said.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris tells our Newscast unit that the incident has fueled the growing debate in France about limiting free speech. She adds that the French government is cracking down on hate speech in the wake of the Paris attacks that left 17 people dead.

France 24 adds:

"In the two weeks that followed the gruesome attacks, French prosecutors launched 117 legal proceedings for 'incitement to racial hatred' and 'glorification of terrorism'. A third have already led to tough sentences, including 12 jail terms.

"As the government mulls new legislation aimed at tackling homegrown jihadism, rights groups and members of the judiciary have warned against attempts to curb basic liberties."

Meanwhile, Bulgaria has extradited to France a man wanted in connection with the Paris attacks. French police say Fritz-Joly Joachin was an associate of the Kouachi brothers, the gunmen who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo. He is facing charges of links to terrorism.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur
Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.