Nine people have been arrested after a teacher in France was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen in what Emmanuel Macron called a “blatant Islamist terrorist attack”.
Samuel Paty had shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in class on freedom of expression. The killer, who was shot dead by police on Friday in broad daylight, was identified as an 18 year-old Chechen Russian born in Moscow.
The French Prime Minister Jean Castex met with teacher’s unions this morning. He said France would react in the “strongest terms” to the attack, which happened at about 5pm on Friday.
“I want to share with you my total indignation. Secularism, the backbone of the of the French Republic, was targeted in this vile act,” Mr Castex said.
A national tribute to Mr Paty is being planned. Parents of pupils laid flowers at the school gate. Some said their children were distraught.
Five suspects were rounded up by police, among them two parents of pupils at the College du Bois d’Aulne, last night and a further four arrested this morning. They include the parents of the killer, his little brother, who is a minor, and his grandfather. The family were described as Chechen refugees in French media.
The attacker, who was killed by police after threatening them with an airgun, was not one of Mr Paty’s students.
He was never educated in the Paris suburb and lived in Evreux in Normandy. Investigators are trying to establish how the killer was able to find the teacher, recognise him and be familiar with his routine. He was not known to be radicalised by police.
The 47-year-old history and geography teacher was decapitated with a butcher’s knife in the street about three hundred metres from the school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, north-west of Paris at around 5pm. A photo of his severed head was posted by a Twitter account, thought to belong to the murderer.
“From Abdullah, the servant of Allah, to Macron, the leader of the infidels, I executed one of your hell dogs who dared to belittle Muhammad,” the Tweet said.
Witnesses told police they heard the assailant shouting “Allahu Akbar” [‘God is the greatest’ in Arabic] before he was shot by officers. No explosives were found on his body after it was checked by a bomb disposal unit.
Police sources said the teacher had received death threats after giving a class during which he showed pupils the controversial cartoons, which were reported to depict the Prophet Mohammed naked. The teacher’s name and school were posted on social media.
A week earlier, one man who said his daughter was in Mr Paty’s class recorded a video shared on social media in which he branded the teacher a thug and appealed to others to “join forces and say ‘stop, don’t touch our children'”.
It was not clear whether the parent was one of those in police custody. It was also not immediately known if the attacker had seen the video.
Anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard will give a press conference on Saturday afternoon.
At the school, parents and teachers paid tribute to Mr Paty, who was said to have been widely liked and himself a father.
His former student Martial, 16, said the teacher loved his job. “He really wanted to teach us things – sometimes we had debates,” he said.
Another student Tiago said he saw Paty on the day he died. “He came to my class to see our teacher. It’s shocking that I won’t see him again,” he said.
“According to my son, he was super nice, super friendly, super kind,” Nordine Chaouadi, a parent of one of Paty’s students, told AFP.
The teacher “simply said to the Muslim children: ‘Leave, I don’t want it to hurt your feelings.’ That’s what my son told me,” the parent said.
Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim Russian republic in the North Caucasus. Two wars in the 1990s triggered a wave of emigration, with many Chechens heading for western Europe.
France has seen occasional violence involving its Chechen community in recent months, believed linked to local criminal activity and score-settling.
” Our community is horrified like all French people by this incident,” said the Strasbourg-based Assembly of Chechens in Europe. It said “that no community can be held responsible for all isolated acts of its nationals ”.
Muslim leaders condemned the killing, which many public figures perceived as an attack on the essence of French statehood and its values of secularism, freedom of worship and freedom of expression.
Tareq Oubrou, the imam of a Bordeaux mosque, said of the killing, “It is not a civilisation that kills an innocent person, it is barbarity”.
Friday’s terror attack came as Mr Macron’s government works on a bill to address Islamic radicals, who authorities claim are creating a parallel society outside the values of the French Republic.
Last night, the French president said, “One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught … the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe.”
The killing came at a highly sensitive time in France after two people were seriously injured in a knife attack last month outside the former offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
A Pakistani man who entered France under a false identity confessed to stabbing two journalists who work for a video production company in the same building as Charlie Hebdo’s former office.
He told investigators he had been angered by the newspaper’s decision to republish controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to coincide with the ongoing trial of 14 alleged accomplices of two Islamists who massacred 12 people at Charlie Hebdo’s offices five years ago.
The attacker said he had not known that the weekly moved to secret new premises after the attack in January 2015.