Anti-terrorism prosecutors in France have detained nine people, including a minor, after a geography teacher was decapitated in broad daylight in front of multiple witnesses on a street in northern Paris on Friday afternoon, according to Paris police.
The attack outside a school in the Parisian suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine occurred after the teacher showed caricatures of the prophet Muhammad published in the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo to his students, a police spokesperson told NBC.
The teacher, identified as Samuel Paty, 47, told Muslim students they could leave the classroom ahead of the lesson on freedom of expression and blasphemy, according to the school district. However, several furious parents reportedly demanded Paty’s resignation after the lesson.
Citing a police source, Agence France-Presse reported that the attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great” after the decapitation. The attacker, said to be an 18-year-old Chechen who was born in Moscow, was then fatally shot by police in the suburb of Eragy Sur Oise after threatening officers with his knife. A handgun was found near his body, police said.
He was reportedly wearing a vest that could have contained explosives, which led police to send in the bomb squad. No information has been released whether the vest was lethal. Extremists have been indoctrinated to believe that suicide bombings and killings of “infidels” will grant them 72 virgins in paradise for their sacrifice. Those arrested included the attacker’s family members and parents of one of the victim’s Muslim students.
The police spokesperson said the suspect had claimed responsibility for the attack and posted a photo of the headless victim on Twitter that was later removed.
The Friday attack is one of several terrorism-related tragedies to hit the French capital over the years. Last month, two people were injured in a knife attack close to the former offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, where Islamist militants killed 12 people in 2015 in revenge for a controversial cartoon of the prophet Muhammad. Officials said the September attack was an act of Islamist terrorism carried out amid a criminal trial for the 2015 attackers.
Paty had reportedly been threatened after showing students the very cartoons that Charlie Hebdo was targeted for publishing. The Guardian reported that, after the lesson, the father of a 13-year-old girl who didn’t leave the classroom posted a YouTube video claiming Paty had shown a “photo of a naked man” and said it was the Muslim prophet. The father called the teacher a thug.
As the situation intensified, the school convened a meeting with Paty, a head teacher and an education department official.
After the killing, Charlie Hebdo tweeted, “Intolerance just reached a new threshold and seems to stop at nothing to impose terror in our country.”
“Tonight, it was the Republic that was attacked with the despicable assassination of one of its servants, a teacher,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Friday. “I think tonight of him, of his family. Our unity and steadfastness are the only answers to the monstrosity of Islamist terrorism.”
The Washington Post reported the country’s anti-terror prosecutor immediately opened an investigation into the “murder in connection with a terrorist enterprise” and “criminal terrorist association.”
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday evening went to the crime scene after an emergency meeting with Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin. Darmanin set up a crisis center to deal with the grisly attack. Macron called the beheading “an Islamist terrorist attack” at the scene. “One of our fellow citizens was assassinated today because he was teaching, he was teaching pupils about freedom of expression.”