An eight-year-old boy from the southern French city of Nice was questioned by police on Wednesday after he allegedly made comments expressing “solidarity” with the gunmen who had attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine, according to media reports. The attack on the French satirical publication by militants, allegedly affiliated to al Qaeda, on Jan. 7, had led to the deaths of 12 people and triggered a state of high alert in countries across Europe.
Authorities at the boy’s school notified the police on Jan. 8 after he refused to participate in a minute’s silence to honor those killed in the attack. The boy, whose name has not been disclosed, also reportedly said he supported the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo as he opposed the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad that were printed by the magazine. "I am on the side of the terrorists, because I am against the caricatures of the prophet," he said, according to media reports.
“In the current context, the principal of the school decided to report to police what had happened,” Marcel Authier, head of the region’s public security, said, according to a report by Agence France-Presse (AFP). “We summoned the child and his father to try and comprehend how an eight-year-old boy could hold such radical ideas.”
However, when the child was questioned by police and asked if he knew what the word “terrorism,” meant, he answered that he didn’t know the meaning. “Obviously, the child doesn’t understand what he’s saying,” Authier reportedly said.
Although school authorities denied having mistreated the child or his parents, a French human rights group Collective Against Islamophobia in France said in a statement that not only was the child, who is believed to be suffering from diabetes, physically abused by the school’s faculty, he was also deprived of insulin shots following the incident.
“Father and son are deeply shocked by their treatment, which illustrates the collective hysteria that has engulfed France since early January,” the human rights group said in the statement.
In the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris, several Muslim community buildings and mosques across France have been targets of violence, triggering concerns over a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
Nearly 60 people, including the controversial French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, have also been arrested by police in recent weeks for indulging in hate speech and supporting terrorism. The move has led many to accuse the French government of employing double standards insofar as free speech is concerned.