A suspect shot dead by police after beheading a history teacher in an attack near Paris was an 18-year-old Moscow-born Chechen refugee, officials said Saturday.
France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office said authorities investigating the killing of Samuel Paty in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Friday also arrested nine suspects, including the teen’s grandfather, parents and 17-year-old brother.
Paty had discussed caricatures of Islam’s Muhammad with his class, leading to threats and a complaint from a parent, police officials said. Islam prohibits images of Muhammad.
The French anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said an investigation for murder with a suspected terrorist motive had been opened.
Ricard told reporters that the suspect, who had been granted a 10-year residency in France as a refugee in March and was not known to intelligence services, had been armed with a knife and an airsoft gun, which fires plastic pellets.
The prosecutor said a text 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 headmaster had received several threatening phone calls.
“We’ll pick ourselves up together, thanks to our spirit of solidarity,” Laurent Brosse, mayor of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, said.
“We are all affected, all touched by this vile assassination,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said in a video message.
Mourners marched near the school in solidarity, holding signs that read “I am a teacher.”
A police official said the suspect was shot dead about 600 yards from where Paty was killed. Police opened fire after he failed to respond to orders to put down his arms and acted in a threatening manner.
French President Emmanuel Macron went to 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,” Macron said.
The presidential Elysee Palace announced Saturday that there will be a national ceremony at a future date in homage to Paty, about whom few details have so far emerged.
Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim Russian republic in the North Caucasus. Two wars in the 1990s triggered a wave of emigration, with many Chechens heading for western Europe.
France has received many Chechens since Russia cracked down on Islamist separatists in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s.
France has seen occasional violence involving Chechens in recent months believed to be linked to local criminal activity.
This is the second time in three weeks that terror has struck France because of caricatures of Muhammad.
Last month, a young man from Pakistan was arrested after attacking two people with a meat cleaver outside the former offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
The weekly was the target of a deadly newsroom attack in 2015, and it republished caricatures of Islam’s founder this month as a trial opened linked to that attack.
Friday’s terror attack came as Macron’s government works on a bill to address Islamic radicals, who authorities claim are creating a parallel society in France.
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