PARIS – A student says he warned his teacher about displaying cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, considered slanderous by Muslims, the day before he was killed on a street in Paris called by the President of France Emmanuel Macron who was an “Islamic terrorist attacker.”
Martial Lusiela, 15, told NBC News he was “shocked” by Friday afternoon’s attack on the middle-class suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of the French capital.
“I did not expect a decapitation – it was so far away,” he said, speaking with the consent of his parents, shortly after the incident in which his 47-year-old history teacher died.
French anti-terrorist prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard identified the victim as Samuel P.
Ricard told reporters on Saturday that the attacker was an 18-year-old escaped Chechen. He said he was armed with a knife and an airsoft gun that fired plastic pellets. Police shot him shortly after the incident.
Born in Moscow, the teenager was given a 10-year residency in France and was not known for intelligence services, Ricard said.
A text claiming responsibility for the attack and a photo of the victim were found on the suspect’s phone, he said, adding that the suspect was seen at the school asking students about the teacher, and the principal the teacher also received many threatening phone calls.
Ricard said Samuel sustained multiple injuries and that an investigation into the murder of a suspected terrorist motive, has been opened.
On Saturday morning, flowers were placed outside the College Bois d’Aulne, where Samuel taught. Others have signs that say, “I am a teacher.”
Student Luisela, said she was in Samuel’s class earlier this month, when the civics teacher showed students the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo magazine in 2015, which were considered slanderous to Muslims. Islam forbids the images of the prophets, insisting that they lead to idolatry.
“We told the teacher it was not good to show pictures like this and it would cause a lot of trouble,” Lusiela said. “This is not a cartoon you should show in class, because there are Muslims in the class.”
Nine people have been arrested for questioning as part of the investigation, along with four family members of the attackers, a spokesman for France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office said on Saturday.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Samuel “was the victim of an Islamic terrorist attack,” speaking from the scene of the incident on Friday.
“One of our fellow citizens was killed today because he was teaching, he was teaching students about freedom of expression,” Macron told reporters.
“Our countrymen were attacked quickly,” he said. “They will not win … We are moving. Strong, And fast. You can count on my determination.”
The attack came as the Macron government continued to work on a bill to address Islamic radicals. France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe with up to 5 million members, Islam being the second largest religion in the country.
Part of that population is made up of Chechen people. In the 1990s, two wars in Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim Russian republic in the North Caucasus, sparked a move and many fled to western Europe.
Muslim leaders in France have strongly condemned the incident on Friday, which carried out the attacks five years ago in the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The outlet published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, issuing divisions that still reflect French society.
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Less than a month ago, a man from Pakistan used a meat cleaver to attack and injure two people on a cigarette break outside the offices where Charlie Hebdo was based during the attack in 2015.
The cartoons controversy was revived last month when Charlie Hebdo decided to republish them to coincide with the start of the 2015 conspiracy trial.
Al-Qaeda, the militant Islamist group that claimed responsibility for those killings, threatened to attack Charlie Hebdo again after it republished the cartoons.
The magazine said last month that it had republished the images to assert its right to freedom of expression, and to show that it could not survive the silence of the violent attack. That stance is supported by many prominent French politicians and public figures.
Nancy Ing and Matt Bradley report from Paris. Adela Suliman reports from London.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.