PARIS — The man suspected of beheading a French history teacher who showed his students cartoons of the prophet Mohammed was identified as an 18-year-old Chechen, who had been granted a 10-year residency in France as a refugee in March. The murder was described by President Emmanuel Macron as an “Islamist terror attack.”
The attack took place late Friday afternoon near the middle school where the teacher worked in Conflans Saint-Honorine, a northwestern suburb around 30 kilometers (20 miles) from central Paris.
According to anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard, initial evidence suggests that the perpetrator loitered outside the school and asked pupils where he could find the victim. He then attacked teacher Samuel Paty when he was walking home from school.
Paty “had numerous wounds to the head … and he had been decapitated,” Ricard said. The weapon was discarded nearby.
Samuel Paty, the history teacher, was beheaded by an Islamic terrorist in France. Islam is full of terrorism & barbarism. It must not be exempted from critical scrutiny. pic.twitter.com/EUGJdSeOMD
— taslima nasreen (@taslimanasreen) October 17, 2020
Ricard also said the suspect posted a photo of the victim’s body on Twitter with a message taking responsibility for the murder. “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down,” read the post. The account has been disabled.
The Russian embassy in Paris said the suspect was Abdullakh Anzorov, whose family had arrived in France when he was six and requested asylum. He was shot by police and later died of his injuries.
Police said history teacher Paty, 47, showed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as part of a class discussion earlier this month on freedom of expression that had prompted complaints from some parents.
Six more people were detained Saturday over the murder, including the parents of a child at the school where the teacher was working, bringing to 10 the total number currently under arrest.
The father of the pupil at the school was so outraged by the lesson that he demanded in a meeting with the school leadership that the teacher be dismissed and began a campaign on social media calling for him to go.
The man published the teacher’s name and the school’s address on social media, insisting it was time to “say stop”. He also went with his daughter to the police to file a complaint against Paty.
Following the class, Paty was subject to threats, police said according to the Associated Press. The headmaster of the school had received several threatening phone calls.
The three other new people detained for questioning are members of the suspect’s social circle. Those previously detained are all relatives including grandparents, parents and a 17-year-old brother.
The attack came as a trial is in progress over the January 2015 massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, which had published caricatures of the prophet that unleashed a wave of anger across the Islamic world.
The magazine had defiantly re-published the cartoons in the run-up to the trial’s opening in September and last month a young Pakistani wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the magazine’s former offices.
In a tweet, Charlie Hebdo expressed its “sense of horror and revolt” at Friday’s attack.
‘Will not win’
Identification documents found on the suspect showed he was an 18-year-old born in Moscow but from Russia’s southern region of Chechnya.
The attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) as police confronted him, a cry often heard in jihadist attacks, a police source said.
French anti-terror prosecutors said they were treating the assault as “a murder linked to a terrorist organization.”
Police said they were investigating a tweet posted from an account that showed a picture of the teacher’s head, and which has since been shut down.
It was unclear whether the message, which contained a threat against Macron — describing him as “the leader of the infidels” — had been posted by the attacker, they said.
The killing bore the hallmarks of “an Islamist terrorist attack,” Macron said as he visited the scene.
Visibly moved, the president said that “the entire nation” stood ready to defend teachers and that “obscurantism will not win.”
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen expressed her condolences to the teacher’s family and the French people.
“My thoughts are also with teachers, in France and across Europe. Without them, there are no citizens. Without them, there is no democracy,” she tweeted in French.
‘Super friendly and kind’
At the school, parents and teachers alike paid tribute to the victim, who has not been officially named.
“According to my son, he was super nice, super friendly, super kind,” a parent, Nordine Chaouadi, told AFP.
“I saw him [the teacher] today, he came to my class to see our teacher. It’s shocking that I won’t see him again,” said Tiago, a student in sixth grade.
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,” said Chaouadi.
Police had arrived at the scene after receiving a call about a suspicious individual loitering near the school, a police source said.
They discovered the dead man and soon spotted the suspect, armed with a blade, who threatened the officers as they tried to arrest him.
They opened fire, severely injuring him, and he later died of the wounds.