A suspected Islamic radical shot dead by police after the gruesome beheading of a history teacher in an attack near Paris was an 18-year-old of Chechen origin, officials said.
- Murdered teacher Samuel Paty had shown his students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad
- Politicians have characterised the slaying as an attack on France’s state secularism
- One Muslim leader said a string of attacks by extremists had hurt the French Islamic community
France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office said that authorities investigating the murder of 47-year-old Samuel Paty in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Friday (local time) have also arrested nine suspects, including the grandfather, parents and 17-year-old brother of the attacker.
Investigators were seeking to establish whether the teenager had acted alone or had accomplices.
The suspect was armed with a knife and an airsoft gun — which fires plastic pellets — and police opened fire after he failed to respond to orders to put down his arms, and acted in a threatening manner.
He died about 600 metres from where Mr Paty died.
Mr Paty had earlier this month shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics class on freedom of expression, angering a number of Muslim parents.
Muslims typically believe that any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous.
In a video posted recently on Twitter, a man describing himself as the father of a student claimed that Mr Paty had shown an image of a naked man and told students it was “the prophet of the Muslims”.
French President Emmanuel Macron arrived quickly at the school on Friday night to denounce what he called an “Islamist terrorist attack”.
He 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,” Mr Macron said.
His office said a national tribute would be paid to Mr Paty, for which the timing was as yet undecided.
‘We’ll pick ourselves up together’
Prime Minister Jean Castex said the attack bore the hallmarks of Islamist terrorism.
“I want to share with you my total indignation. Secularism, the backbone of the French Republic, was targeted in this vile act,” Mr Castex said.
“We’ll pick ourselves up together, thanks to our spirit of solidarity,” said Laurent Brosse, mayor of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, at a news conference.
In an outpouring of grief, the hashtag #JeSuisSamuel (I am Samuel) trended on social media, like the #JeSuisCharlie call for solidarity after the attack on Charlie Hebdo in 2015.
Before that attack, Charlie Hebdo had published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, unleashing divisions that still plague French society.
Addressing the country’s teachers, pupils and their parents, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Mr Paty was killed by what he called the enemies of freedom.
“The Republic will never, never, never back down when confronted by terror, intimidation,” he said in a recorded statement.
Attack condemned by Muslim community
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.
The litany of deadly attacks by Islamist militants or their sympathisers was devastating for France’s Muslim community, Tareq Oubrou, the imam of a Bordeaux mosque, said.
“Every day that passes without incident we give thanks,” he told France Inter radio.
“We are between hammer and anvil. It attacks the Republic, society, peace and the very essence of religion, which is about togetherness.”
It is the second time in three weeks that terror has struck France linked to caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
Last month, a young man from Pakistan was arrested after attacking two people with a meat cleaver outside the former offices of Charlie Hebdo.