Teacher beheaded in Paris after showing Prophet Muhammad cartoons in class

16 October 2020, 17:53 | Updated: 17 October 2020, 13:48

A man has been decapitated in Paris and a suspect has been shot dead by police
A man has been decapitated in Paris and a suspect has been shot dead by police. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A terrorism probe has been launched after a school teacher who showed Prophet Muhammad cartoons in class was decapitated in Paris.

The suspected killer, an 18-year-old Chechen, was shot dead by the police in the nearby commune of Eragny in north-west Paris, an official confirmed.

French anti-terror prosecutors are now investigating the beheading, which occurred in the adjoining town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine - both are situated in the city's Val d'Oise region.

The victim was history teacher Samuel Paty, who works at a nearby middle school and had opened a discussion with students on caricatures of Islam's Prophet Mohammed, a police official confirmed.

Nine people, including one minor, are currently being held following the horrific attack, according to AFP.

President Emmanuel Macron has visited school and delivered a statement to the media where he described the killing as an "Islamist terrorist attack".

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"One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught... the freedom to believe or not believe," the French leader said.

He stressed that the attack should not divide the country because that is what the extremists want.

"We must stand all together as citizens," the president added.

Although the suspect's identity has not yet been confirmed, he is believed to have been an 18-year-old male of Chechen background who was born in Moscow and linked with radical Chechen groups in France.

He was armed with a knife and an airsoft gun - which could fire plastic pellets - and was shot dead by officers around 600 yards from where the teacher was killed.

A police official said the suspect refused to respond after being ordered to put down his arms and that he was acting in a threatening manner.

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Emmanuel Macron was pictured visiting the school where the teacher had been working
Emmanuel Macron was pictured visiting the school where the teacher had been working. Picture: PA

The teacher had been threatened after opening a discussion "for a debate" about the caricatures in question about 10 days ago.

A student's parent had filed a complaint against the victim, another police official said, adding that the suspect did not have a child who was in attendance at the school.

Neither of the two officials could be named as they were not authorized to discuss ongoing investigations.

Heavily armed police set up a security perimeter in the area around the school, and police vans and emergency vehicles lined the streets advising people to avoid the area.

In a post on Twitter, the Yvelines National Police said: "A police intervention is currently underway at Place René Picard in @VilledeConflans.

"Avoid the area. Respect the security perimeter. Follow the instructions of the FDO. Do not interfere with the current intervention."

It was the second terrorism-related incident since the opening of an ongoing trial on the Charlie Hebdo newsroom massacre in January 2015.

The paper recently republished caricatures of the prophet. A young man from Pakistan was arrested after stabbing two people, who suffered non-life-threatening injuries, outside the newspaper's former offices.

"We didn't see this coming," Conflans resident Remi Tell said on CNews TV station, while describing the town as peaceful.

He had attended the middle school, Bois D'Aulne, where the teacher taught.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer tweeted that it was France itself that was attacked.

"Our unity and firmness are the only response in the face of the monstrosity of Islamist terrorism," he tweeted.

France has offered asylum to many Chechens since the Russian military waged war against Islamist separatists in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s, and there are Chechen communities scattered around the country.

It has also seen occasional violence involving its Chechen community in recent months, for example in the Dijon region, the Mediterranean city of Nice, and the western town of Saint-Dizier, which was believed to be linked to local criminal activity.

The attack came as President Macron pushes for a new law against what he calls domestic "separatism," notably by Islamic radicals accused of indoctrinating vulnerable people through home schools, extremist preaching and other activities.

France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe with up to five million members, and Islam is the country's second religion.