Arras, France—— France will mobilize up to 7,000 troops to bolster security across the country, the president’s office said on Saturday, after a teacher was stabbed to death and three others wounded in a school attack by a former student suspected of Islamic radicalization.
Friday’s attack rattled France amid global tensions over Israel’s war with Hamas, with some schoolchildren, parents and staff returning to Gambetta in the northern city of Arras as it reopened on Saturday morning – Kano School to reconnect and find support.
Prosecutors said counterterrorism authorities were investigating the stabbing and the suspect and several others were detained. The suspect had recently come under intelligence surveillance for radicalization. Court documents reviewed by The Associated Press show he is from the Ingushetia region in Russia’s Caucasus mountains, which borders Chechnya. Authorities initially identified him as Chechen.
The French presidential office said the French government had raised the national threat alert and Macron ordered the deployment of up to 7,000 troops by Monday night until further notice to increase security and vigilance across France. The “attack emergency” threat situation allows the government to temporarily mobilize the military to protect public places and other measures.
The attacker’s exact motive is unclear, and he reportedly refused to speak to investigators.
Police stood guard at the school as adults and children arrived on Saturday morning. Classes were canceled but schools reopened for those who wanted to gather together or seek support. One mother said she came with her 17-year-old daughter to fight extremism and to overcome the fear of returning to the site where her children were cordoned off for hours after the stabbing.
Another mother came to seek guidance from a counselor on how to support her two sons who had witnessed an assault on campus.
“As adults, it’s hard for us to take a step back, but to them, they’re still kids,” Emily Noge said as she arrived at the school with her son and partner. “They initially thought it was a drill, so it was very tricky for them to separate things out and say we had gone from a drill to something dramatic.”
“Always the same moments come back: schoolyard, chairs to protect themselves, stabbings, reasons. ‘Why us? Why alas? Why teachers? They are good teachers. They are there to protect us,” she said .
For many French, the attack echoed the killing three years ago of another teacher, Samuel Paty, near a Paris-area school. He was beheaded by a radical Chechen and later killed by police.
French intelligence told The Associated Press that the suspect in this week’s attack had been under surveillance since the summer for alleged Islamic radicalization. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he was detained for questioning on Thursday based on phone taps on him in recent days, but investigators found no signs he was preparing an attack.
The minister said French intelligence services had suggested a link between war in the Middle East and the suspects’ decision to attack. He said authorities had detained 12 people near schools or places of worship since Hamas attacked Israel, some carrying weapons and preparing for action. France this week stepped up security measures at hundreds of Jewish venues across the country.
Prosecutors said the attacker, a former student of the school, repeatedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” or “Allah is great” during the attack. Prosecutors are considering terrorism-related murder and attempted murder charges against the suspect.
The dead educator was Dominique Bernard, a French teacher at the Gambetta-Cano school for students aged 11 to 18. Another teacher and a security guard were in critical condition from stab wounds, police said. Counterterrorism prosecutors said a cleaner was also injured.
Macron announced that schools would reopen on Saturday 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.”
Charlton reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Nicolas Garriga (Arras, France), Nicolas Vaux-Montagne (Lyon, France), John Lester (Paris) and Elise Morton (London) contributed to this report contributed.