FRENCH police detained and questioned a boy of eight who claimed to support the men who attacked the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, drawing criticism that France’s measures to prevent people from defending terrorism have gone overboard.
Twenty people were killed in three days of terror that started on 7 January in the Paris area, and dozens of people have been accused of defending terrorism since the attacks, with some jailed for years after expedited court proceedings.
But the child, from Nice, appears to be by far the youngest. The boy had declared: “The French must be killed. I am with the terrorists. The Muslims did well, and the journalists got what they deserved,” according to Fabienne Lewandowski, deputy director for public security in the Alpes-Maritimes region.
She said the boy had also refused to take part in a national minute’s silence for the victims.
The school director brought a complaint against the child on 21 January and he was questioned that day with his father and a lawyer present.
“The reason we questioned him was to determine what could have influenced, what could have driven this child to say something like this,” Ms Lewandowski said. “It’s a shame that it happened in a formal questioning but, given what he said, it was necessary to go further than usual.”
Sefen Guez Guez, a lawyer for the family, said the decision to question the child at a police station that day showed a “collective hysteria”.
“An eight-year-old does not belong in a police station,” he said. “This is disproportionate and completely unreal.”
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Mr Guez Guez posted on his Twitter feed that the child had admitted having said: “I am with the terrorists.” However, according to the tweet, when police asked the child what the word “terrorism” meant, he replied: “I don’t know.”
The Collective Against Islamophobia in France, a leading anti-racism watchdog, released a statement denouncing “the collective hysteria that has engulfed France since early January”.
While hundreds of thousands of people marched through French cities in protest against terrorism and in defence of free speech, isolated cases of praise for the attackers, particularly on social media, prompted government members to call for swift and exemplary punishment.
In the two weeks following the attacks, prosecutors launched 117 proceedings for “incitement to racial hatred” and “glorification of terrorism”. One-third have already led to tough sentences, including 12 jail terms.
Meanwhile, a French man wanted in connection with terrorist attacks in Paris has been extradited from Bulgaria to France, where he is facing charges of links to terrorism.
Police say Fritz-Joly Joachin, 19, was an associate of the Kouachi brothers who carried out the 7 January attack on staff at Charlie Hebdo.