PARIS (AP) – For the second time in three weeks, fear has struck France, this time with the shocking beheading of a history teacher on a street in a suburb of Paris. The suspected assailant was shot and killed by police.
French President Emmanuel Macron denounced what he called an “Islamic terrorist attack” and urged the country to stand united in the fight against extremism. The teacher discussed the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad of Islam in his class, authorities said.
The French anti-terrorist prosecutor has opened an investigation into the murder of a suspected terrorist motive. Four people, a minor, were detained a few hours later, the office of the counter-terrorist prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said without elaborating. Usually the police are fan out to find family and friends of potential suspects in terrorist cases.
Macron visited the school where the teacher worked in the town of Conflans-Saint-Honorine and met the staff after the murder. An Associated Press reporter saw three ambulances at the scene, and armed police officers surrounding the area and police vans lined the nearby streets.
“One of our countrymen was killed today because he taught … freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or disbelieve,”; Macron said.
He said the attack should not divide France because that is what extremists want. “We should all be together as citizens,” he said.
The incident came as the Macron government was making a bill to address Islamist radicals claimed by the authorities creating a parallel society outside the values of the French Republic. France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe with up to 5 million members, and Islam is the No. 2 religions of the country.
A police officer said the suspect, armed with a knife and an airsoft gun – which fired plastic pellets – was shot nearly 600 meters (yards) from killing the male teacher after he failed to respond to orders. to drop his arms, and act in a threatening manner.
The teacher received threats after opening a discussion “for a debate” about cartoons about 10 days ago, a police official told The Associated Press. A student’s parent has filed a complaint against the teacher, another police officer said, adding that the suspected killer had no children at the school.
An ID card was found at the scene but police were verifying the identity, a police official said. French media reported that the suspect was an 18-year-old Chechen, born in Moscow. That information was not immediately confirmed.
France has witnessed occasional violence involving the Chechen community in recent months, in the Dijon region, in the Mediterranean city of Nice, and in the western town of Saint-Dizier, believed to be linked to local criminal activity. .
It is not known what link, if any, the attacker could have had the teacher or if he had accomplices. Police are urging the search for homes and potential family and friends of the person in question, the police official said.
The two officers could not be named because they were not allowed to discuss the ongoing investigation.
“We did not see this coming,” Conflans resident Remi Tell, who as a child attended Bois D’Aulne middle school, told the CNews TV station. He described the town as peaceful.
This is the second incident related to terrorism since the opening of an ongoing trial for the massacre in the newsroom in January 2015 in the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which published cartoons of the prophet of Islam.
At the commencement of the trial, the paper republished cartoons of the prophet to emphasize the right to freedom of expression. Quickly, a young man from Pakistan was arrested after stabbing two people with a meat cleaver outside the former newspaper office. They did not suffer threatening injuries. The 18-year-old told police he was upset with the publication of the caricatures.
In a video recently posted on social media, a man describing himself as a father at school said the teacher who was killed recently showed an offensive image of someone and told these students is “the prophet of Muslims.” Before showing the images, the teacher asked the Muslim children to leave the room because he intended to show a surprise, the man said.
“What message does he want to send to these children? … Why did a history teacher act like this in front of 13-year-olds?” The man asked. He called on other angry parents to communicate contact him, and relay the message.
Michel Euler at Conflans-Saint-Honorine, Angela Charlton in Paris and Nicolas Vaux-Montagny in Lyon contributed to this report.