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French prosecutor says murdered teacher had been target of threats

Issued on: 17/10/2020 – 14:48Modified: 17/10/2020 – 14:51

France’s anti-terror prosecutor has confirmed that the suspect in Friday’s gruesome beheading of a middle school teacher was a Chechen teenager and that the school had received threats prior to the attack.

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Police shot the suspect dead minutes after 47-year-old history teacher Samuel Paty was brutally murdered in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, in what President Emmanuel Macron described as an “Islamist terrorist attack”.

French police investigating the teacher’s killing were questioning ten people in custody on Saturday, including the suspect’s grandfather, parents and 17-year-old brother. 

Jean-François Ricard, France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor, said the suspect was an 18-year-old Chechen born in Moscow, who was living legally in France as a refugee. He was not known to intelligence services.

Ricard said the suspect, who was armed with a knife and an airsoft gun, approached pupils in the street and asked them to point out his victim before the attack.

A text claiming responsibility and a photograph of the victim were found on the suspect’s phone after he was shot dead by police a few streets away, the prosecutor added.

France knife attacker asked pupils to point out his victim, prosecutor says

The teacher had earlier this month shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a civics class on freedom of expression, reportedly angering a number of Muslim parents.

Ricard said the father of a schoolgirl had sought the teacher’s dismissal and launched an online call for “mobilisation” against him, naming Paty and giving the school’s address. The teacher had filed a complaint for defamation after the school received threats.

The prosecutor added that one of the people arrested in the wake of the attack had a relative who had been a member of the Islamic State (IS) group.

‘Murdered for teaching freedom of expression’

On Saturday, parents and teachers paid tribute to the murdered teacher, laying white roses outside the school and holding up placards saying “I am a teacher — Freedom of Speech”.

Martial, 16, said Paty had loved his job: “He really wanted to teach us things — sometimes we had debates.” 

“According to my son, he was super nice, super friendly, super kind,” Nordine Chaouadi, a parent of one of Paty’s students, told AFP.

‘Horror’: students and parents react after beheading of French teacher in Paris suburb knife attack

Arriving at the scene of the attack on Friday night, Macron urged the nation to stand united against extremism. 

“One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught (…) the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe,” Macron said.

>> For a teacher in France, a lesson on freedom of expression was followed by death

It is the second time in three weeks that terror has struck France linked to caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed.

Last month, a young man from Pakistan was arrested after attacking two people with a meat cleaver outside the former offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

The weekly was the target of a deadly newsroom attack in 2015, and it republished caricatures of the prophet this month to underscore the right to freedom of information as a trial opened linked to that attack. 

‘Between hammer and anvil’

Friday’s terror attack came as 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. 

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.

Deadly attacks by Islamist militants or their sympathisers was devastating for France’s Muslim community, Tareq Oubrou, the imam of a Bordeaux mosque, said.

“We are between hammer and anvil,” he told France Inter radio. “It attacks the Republic, society, peace and the very essence of religion, which is about togetherness.”

Unions, anti-racism groups and Charlie Hebdo are organising a gathering in central Paris on Sunday to honour the murdered teacher.

A national tribute will be organised for Wednesday, Macron’s office said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP, AFP)

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