Terrorist decapitation of teacher jolts France
PARIS--France was jolted Friday by the news of a history teacher being decapitated outside his own school by an 18-year Chechen for having shown students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a bloody incident described by President Emmanuel Macron as an “Islamist terrorist attack”.
The assailant was shot by police as they tried to arrest him and later died of his injuries, police said.
The attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) as police confronted him, a cry often heard in jihadist attacks, a police source said.
The man suspected of beheading a French teacher who had shown his students cartoons of the prophet Mohammed was an 18-year-old born in Moscow and originating from Russia’s southern region of Chechnya, a judicial source said on Saturday.
Five more people have been detained over the murder on Friday outside Paris, including the parents of a child at the school where the teacher was working, bringing to nine the total number currently under arrest, said the source, who asked not to be named.
According to the source, the two detained parents had signalled their disagreement with the teacher’s decision to show the cartoons.
The other new people detained for questioning are members of the suspect’s social circle but not family members.
French anti-terror prosecutors said they were treating the assault as “a murder linked to a terrorist organisation”.
The attack happened on the outskirts of Paris at around 5:00 pm (1500 GMT) near the middle school where the teacher worked in Conflans Saint-Honorine, a northwestern suburb around 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the city centre.
The killing bore the hallmarks of “an Islamist terrorist attack”, Macron said as he visited the scene.
Visibly moved, the president said that “the entire nation” stood ready to defend teachers and that “obscurantism will not win”.
The victim was a history teacher who recently showed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as part of a class discussion on freedom of expression, police said.
France will react with the greatest firmness to the attack, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Saturday.
“Through one of its defenders, it is the Republic which has been struck in the heart by Islamist terrorism,” Castex wrote on Twitter.
“In solidarity with its teachers, the State will react with the greatest firmness so that the Republic and its citizens live, free! We will never give up. Never.”
A parent of a pupil at the school said the teacher might have stirred “controversy” by asking Muslim pupils to leave the room before showing the cartoons.
Police said they were investigating a tweet posted from an account that showed a picture of the teacher’s head, and which has since been shut down.
It was unclear whether the message, which contained a threat against Macron — described as “the leader of the infidels” — had been posted by the attacker, they said.
Residents in the usually calm neighbourhood said they were shocked while pupils from the school, some accompanied by their parents, gathered in the street checking their phones for updates.
“Nothing ever happens here,” said Mohand Amara, who lives nearby, as he walked his dog not far from the school.
Police had arrived at the scene after receiving a call about a suspicious individual loitering near the school, a police source said.
They discovered the dead man and soon spotted the suspect, armed with a blade, who threatened them as they tried to arrest him.
They opened fire and injured him severely. The man later died of his injuries, a judicial source said.
The scene was cordoned off and a bomb disposal unit dispatched because of the suspected presence of an explosive vest, according to police.
France’s parliament suspended Friday’s debate after news of the decapitation, with session president Hugues Renson, visibly moved, calling the attack “abominable”.
France has seen a wave of Islamist violence since the 2015 terror attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in the capital.
It also comes just days after a follower of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group who attacked a police officer with a hammer outside the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris was sentenced to 28 years in jail.
And last month, charges were brought against a 25-year old Pakistani man after he wounded two people with a meat cleaver to avenge the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed by Charlie Hebdo, which purportedly prompted the 2015 killings.
Seventeen people were killed in the three-day spree that heralded a wave of Islamist violence in France that has so far claimed more than 250 lives.
In a tweet, Charlie Hebdo expressed its “sense of horror and revolt” at Friday’s attack.