PARIS, 17 Oct 2020:
The beheading of a teacher who showed students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad was an “Islamist terrorist attack,” French president Emmanuel Macron said yesterday.
“One of our fellow citizens has been murdered today because he taught his pupils freedom of expression,” the president told a press conference in the Paris suburb of Eragny-sur-Oise, where the knife-wielding suspect was fatally shot after threatening police as they tried to arrest him.
The killer “wanted to strike down the republic and its values,” Macron said, vowing that “religious obscurantism will not prevail.”
Police received a call around 5pm about a decapitation in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, roughly 30km northwest of Paris.
They found the body near the middle school where the 47-year-old victim taught history and geography. The suspect was roughly 600m away from the body, in neighbouring Eragny, when police reached the scene.
Armed with a knife and a rifle that fires pellets, the suspect disobeyed commands to put down his weapons and behaved in what was described as a threatening manner as the officers approached.
The police shot the suspect and moved quickly to seal off the area as a precaution in case he was wearing a suicide vest.
The suspect shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great in Arabic) before police opened fire, sources told the web site Actu 17.
Authorities identified the suspect only as a Moscow-born male of 18 who, while previously known to police, had never been categorised as a prospect for radicalisation.
Even prior to Macron’s comments, the office of the anti-terrorism prosecutor said that the case was being handled as an “assassination in connection with a terrorist organisation.”
Last week, the father of a 13-year-old Muslim pupil at the school in Conflans posted a video on social media to complain about the teacher’s use of the Muhammad caricatures in the classroom to initiate a discussion about free speech.
Citing his daughter’s account, the disgruntled father said that before showing the caricatures, the teacher suggested the Muslim students leave so as not to be offended.
The father said his daughter decided to remain in the classroom. He invited other parents at the school who shared his outrage to contact him with an eye toward making a formal complaint against the teacher.
A few days ago, another parent published what he said was a message from the school’s principal stating the teacher “had acknowledged his blunder and had apologised.”
French authorities have been on alert since last month’s start of the trial of 14 people accused of involvement in the January 2015 attacks on the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, which left 17 dead in all.
Charlie Hebdo marked the trial by republishing the Prophet Muhammad caricatures that sparked the 2015 bloodbath and al-Qaeda responded with death threats against the newspaper’s staff.
At the end of September, a man armed with a butcher’s knife stabbed two employees of a news agency with offices in the building that formerly housed Charlie Hebdo.
Though badly wounded, both employees survived and the assailant, a Pakistani citizen, was arrested within minutes of the assault.