ARRAS, France (AP) — A man of Chechen origin who was under surveillance by French security services for suspected Islamist radicalization stabbed to death a teacher at his former high school in northern France on Friday and left Two others were seriously injured.
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Counterterrorism prosecutors are investigating the attack amid rising global tensions over the war between Israel and Hamas. It also comes nearly three years after another teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by radical Chechens near his school in the Paris region.
President Emmanuel Macron said France was “again under brutal attack by Islamic terrorism”.
“Almost three years after Samuel Paty was assassinated, terrorism has once again struck a school, and we all know it,” Macron said at the scene of the attack in the city of Arras, 115 miles (185 kilometers) away. ). km) north of Paris.
A colleague and a teacher identified the dead educator as Dominique Bernard, a French teacher at the Gambetta-Cano school for students aged 11 to 18. Macron said the victims “intervened and probably saved many lives” but that the two injured – another teacher and a security guard – were fighting for their lives.
The French leader said police had thwarted an “attempted attack” in another part of the country after the teacher was stabbed to death. He gave no details, but police said a man armed with a knife was arrested as he emerged from a prayer hall in the Yvelines department, west of Paris. Police said the man’s motive was unclear at this time.
The suspect in the attack in Arras has been arrested. The national police force identified him as a Chechen Russian citizen born in 2003. French intelligence told The Associated Press that the man had been closely monitored with tracking and phone surveillance since the summer and was intercepted on Thursday to facilitate his arrest. A police check found no foul play.
Sliman Hamzi, a police officer who was among the first to arrive at the scene, said the suspect, a former student of the school, shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is great) in Arabic.
Hamzy said he was alerted by another officer and he rushed to the school where he saw a male victim lying on the ground outside the school as his attacker was taken away. He said the victim’s throat was cut.
“I was absolutely shocked by what I saw,” the officer said. “It was a horrific thing to see this poor man killed by a madman on the job.”
Macron traveled to Arras with the interior and education ministers. Macron paused for a moment in front of the teacher’s blanket-covered body in the parking lot in front of the school. As forensic experts looked around the body, a pool of blood could be seen.
Macron then went to visit students at the school in a neighboring building.
School attacks are rare in France and the government has asked authorities to increase vigilance in all schools across the country.
Julie Duhamel, an official with the Unsa teachers’ union in the Pas-de-Calais region, which includes Arras, told Franceinfo that teachers had flagged the suspect’s radicalization “several years ago”.
Intelligence told The Associated Press that the suspect’s phone conversations in recent days showed no signs of an imminent attack, leading intelligence officials to conclude the attackers suddenly decided to take action on Friday.
The suspect’s brother was detained for questioning on Friday, police said.
In the summer of 2019, France’s anti-terrorism intelligence service DGSI arrested an older brother for his alleged role in planning an attack that was foiled and is now in jail, French intelligence said.
The older brother was also a former student at the high school that was attacked on Friday, according to legal records from his trial earlier this year on terror-related charges. Investigative records show that in a 2016 school class on free speech, his brother defended the 2015 terrorist attack that killed 12 cartoonists at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
My brother is serving a five-year sentence for terrorism crimes. He was convicted this year for his role in planning an armed attack around the Elysee Palace in Paris that was foiled by intelligence services. Other members of the radical Islamist group were also sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. He was the only Chechen in the group.
Friday’s attack echoes the killing of Patty on October 16, 2020 (also a Friday) by an 18-year-old who became radicalized. Like the suspect in Friday’s stabbing, the earlier attacker had a Chechen background. The police shot him.
Martin Doussau, a philosophy teacher at Gambetta-Kano College, said the attacker was armed with two knives and appeared to be specifically hunting a history teacher. Patty taught history and geography.
“I was chased by my attacker, who … asked me if I taught history. (He said), ‘Are you a history teacher? Are you a history teacher?'” Dussault said, describing how he locked himself in the door. Later, the police subdued the attacker with a stun gun.
“When he turned to me and asked me if I was a history teacher, I immediately thought of Samuel Patty,” Dushaw told reporters.
Prosecutors said they were considering terror-related murder and attempted murder charges against the suspect.
The attack comes as tensions rise around the world over Hamas attacks in southern Israel and Israel’s ferocious military response, which has killed hundreds of civilians on both sides.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Thursday ordered local authorities to ban all pro-Palestinian demonstrations in response to a rise in anti-Semitic acts.
France is estimated to have the world’s third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the United States, and the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.
The French National Assembly (the lower house of parliament) opened its session on Friday with a minute’s silence for the victims.
Macron said schools in Arras could reopen as early as Saturday morning and urged the French people to “remain united”.
“We have made the choice not to surrender to terror,” he said. “We cannot let anything divide us and we must remember that schools and the dissemination of knowledge are at the heart of this fight against ignorance.”
Lester reported from Paris and Petrekin reported from Brussels. Angela Charlton in Paris, Nicolas Vaux-Montagne in Lyon and Michel Spengler in Arras, France, also contributed.