France is reeling from its latest terrorist attack — the gruesome beheading of a Paris-area teacher days after he showed his class controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Media identify the suspect as an 18-year-old immigrant born in Moscow and of Chechen origin. The suspect asked students in the street to point out the victim, counterterror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said Saturday. Speaking at a news conference, Ricard also noted the attacker posted a photo of the teacher’s body on Twitter, with a note saying he had carried out the killing.
Friday’s attack marked yet another strike on France, less than a month after a man brutally stabbed two people in front of the former offices of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine. Once again, the government is treating the incident as a terrorist attack.
Several people are being held for questioning, including members of the suspect’s family.
Police shot and killed the alleged assailant, who reportedly had yelled “Allahu akbar” — “God is great,” shortly after they found the decapitated body of middle school history teacher Samuel Paty near his school in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Saint-Honorine. The suspect reportedly lived in Normandy, far from where the attack took place.
In the gruesome Twitter posting, the man said he killed his victim for having shown Charlie Hebdo’s mocking cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his class. Those same cartoons triggered a series of terrorist attacks in January 2015. A trial over them is going on in Paris.
Speaking late Friday, President Emmanuel Macron said the killing bore the markings of an Islamist terror strike. He said those trying to attack free expression would not win.
Residents of Conflans-Saint-Honorine are in shock. Speaking to French media, some of the teacher’s students said he told them those who might be uncomfortable with the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were free to leave the class. The lesson was on free expression, but several parents reportedly were upset by it and signaled this on social media.
Teachers’ union representatives say they are devastated. One, Jean-Remi Girard, told French radio it was shocking that a teacher could be killed for simply doing his job.
For their part, Muslim leaders fear the attack will again stigmatize French Muslims, who make up Western Europe’s largest Islamic community.
Tareq Oubrou, rector of Bordeaux’ main mosque, told BFMTV people will link his religion to such crimes — which, he said, would be terrible for ordinary Muslims.
Others, including the far-right National Rally party, criticize the government for being too soft on extremism. Next month, French lawmakers begin examining controversial legislation to fight radical Islam.
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