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Teacher beheaded in France after showing class cartoons of Prophet Mohammad

Reuters PARIS | Updated on October 17, 2020 Published on October 17, 2020

Police officers secure the area near the scene of a attack in the Paris suburb of Conflans St Honorine, France   -  REUTERS

A view of the place where a middle school teacher was attacked in the Paris suburb of Conflans St Honorine, France,   -  REUTERS

A middle school history teacher in France was beheaded near the school where earlier this month he had shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, considered blasphemous by Muslims, French officials said on Friday.

The attacker was shot dead by a police patrol a few streets away from the scene of the attack late on Friday afternoon, in a residential suburb north-west of Paris.

“One of our fellow citizens was assassinated today because he was teaching, he was teaching pupils about freedom of expression,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at the scene of the attack.

“Our compatriot was flagrantly attacked, was the victim of an Islamist terrorist attack,” Macron said. “They won't win... We will act. Firmly, And quickly. You can count on my determination.”

The incident carried echoes of the attack five years ago on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, unleashing divisions that are still casting a pall over French society.

Friday's killing, by targeting a teacher, was interpreted by many public figures as an attack on the essence of French statehood, with the values it espouses of secularism, freedom of worship, and freedom of expression.

“This evening, it's the Republic that's under attack,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer wrote in a tweet.

The victim of Friday's attack sustained multiple knife wounds to the neck, according to a police representative. One law enforcement source said the teacher had been beheaded in the attack.

French broadcaster BFMTV reported that the suspected attacker was 18 years old and born in Moscow. Law enforcement officials did not name the attacker, or his victim.

A police source said that witnesses had heard the attacker shout “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is Greatest”.

The attack took place in the street in front of the middle school where the victim worked, in the suburb of Conflans Sainte-Honorine. The area is a middle class neighbourhood with many residents who commute to work in Paris.

Civics lesson

According to French media reports, the teacher who was killed had earlier this month shown pupils the cartoons as part of a civics lesson.

A Twitter thread posted on Oct. 9 contained a video of a man who said his daughter, a Muslim, was one of the pupils in the class, and that she was shocked and upset by the teacher's actions.

The man in the video urged Twitter users to complain to the authorities and get the teacher removed from his post. Reuters was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the video.

France has over the past years seen a series of violent attacks by Islamist militants, including the 2015 Charlie Hebdo killings, and bombings and shootings in November 2015 at the Bataclan theatre and sites around Paris that killed 130 people.

Less than a month ago, a man originally from Pakistan used a meat cleaver to attack and wound two people who were on a cigarette break outside the offices where Charlie Hebdo was based at the time of the 2015 attack.

The issue of the cartoons had been revived last month when Charlie Hebdo decided to re-publish them to coincide with the start of the trial of accomplices in the 2015 attack.

Al-Qaeda, the militant Islamist group that claimed responsibility for those killings, threatened to attack Charlie Hebdo again after it republished the cartoons.

The magazine said last month it published to assert its right to freedom of expression, and to show it would not be cowed into silence by violent attacks. That stance was backed by many prominent French politicians and public figures.

Reacting to Friday's attack outside the school, Charlie Hebdo wrote on its Twitter account: “Intolerance has crossed a new threshold and does not seem to give ground to anything in imposing its terror on our country.”

French police arrest nine after teacher beheaded in street

French police have arrested nine people after a suspected Islamist sympathiser beheaded a school teacher on the street of a Paris suburb on Friday, police sources said.

Investigators were trying to establish whether the attacker, who was shot dead by police, had acted alone or had accomplices. French media reported that he was an 18-year-old of Chechen origin.

Witnesses heard the assailant shout “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Greatest”, a police source said. His victim, a history teacher, had earlier this month shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics class on freedom of expression.

President Emmanuel Macron called the incident Islamist terrorism.

Four relatives of the attacker, including a minor, were detained in the immediate hours after the attack in the middle-class suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, the police sources said.

Five more were detained overnight, among them two parents of pupils at the College du Bois d'Aulne where the teacher was employed.

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.

Tareq Oubrou, the imam of a Bordeaux mosque, denied the killing marked a clash of civilisations.

“It is not a civilisation that kills an innocent person, it is barbarity,” Oubrou told France Inter, adding that the litany of deadly attacks by Islamist militants or their sympathisers was devastating for France's Muslim community.

“Every day that passes without incident we give thanks,” he said. “We are between hammer and anvil. It attacks the Republic, society, peace and the very essence of religion, which is about togetherness.”

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Published on October 17, 2020
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