A suspect killed by police after the gruesome beheading of a history teacher in an attack near Paris was an 18-year-old Chechen refugee born in Moscow, officials said Saturday.
The French anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office said authorities investigating Samuel Paty’s murder in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Friday also arrested nine suspects, including the grandfather, parents and 17-year-old brother of the teenager.
Paty had discussed Prophet Muhammad’s caricatures of Islam with his class, leading to threats and a complaint from a parent, police officials said. Islam forbids images of the prophet, claiming that they lead to idolatry. It was not possible to appoint officials because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation.
French anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said a murder investigation was opened with a suspected terrorist motive.
Ricard told reporters that the suspect, who was granted a 1
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The prosecutor said a message claiming responsibility and a photograph of the victim were found on the suspect’s phone. Ricard said the suspect had been seen at the school asking students about the teacher, and the principal had received several threatening phone calls.
French leaders offered messages of sadness but also of hope after the killing.
“We will recover together, thanks to our spirit of solidarity,” said Laurent Brosse, Mayor of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.
“We are all affected, all touched by this vile murder,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said in a video message.
Mourners marched near the school in solidarity, carrying signs reading “I am a teacher”.
A police officer said the suspect was killed about 600 meters from where Paty died. Police opened fire after he failed to respond to orders to lower their weapons and acted in a threatening manner. The official could not be appointed due to the ongoing investigation.
French President Emmanuel Macron went to school on Friday evening to denounce what he called an “Islamist terror attack”. He urged the nation to stand united against extremism.
“One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught … freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not to believe,” Macron said.
The Elysee presidential palace announced on Saturday that there will be a national ceremony at a future date in tribute to Paty, of which few details have emerged so far.
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In a video posted recently on Twitter, a man who describes himself as the father of a student claimed that Paty had shown a picture of a naked man and told the students he was “the prophet of Muslims”.
Before showing the pictures, the teacher asked the Muslim children to raise their hand and leave the room because he was going to show something shocking, the man said. “What was the message you wanted to send to these children? What is this hatred?” the man asked. The PA was unable to independently confirm these claims.
Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim Russian republic in the North Caucasus. Two wars in the 1990s triggered a wave of emigration, with many Chechens headed for Western Europe. France has offered asylum to many Chechens since the Russian military waged war against Islamist separatists in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s.
In recent months, France has witnessed occasional violence involving its Chechen community, believed to be linked to local criminal activity and settlement of accounts.
It is the second time in three weeks that terror has hit France linked to the caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. Last month, a young Pakistani man was arrested after assaulting two people with a cleaver outside the former offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
The weekly was the target of a deadly newsroom attack in 2015 and this month re-released caricatures of the prophet to emphasize the right to freedom of information as an open process linked to that attack.
The terrorist attack on Friday came as Macron’s government works on a bill to target Islamic radicals, which authorities say are creating a parallel society outside the values of the French Republic.