The man suspected of beheading a French teacher who showed his students cartoons of the prophet Mohammed was an 18-year-old Chechen, a judicial source said Saturday, in what President Emmanuel Macron called an “Islamist terror attack.”
Police have detained nine people over Friday’s attack near the school where the teacher worked in Conflans-Saint-Honorine, a usually quiet suburb around 30 kilometers northwest of central Paris.
The assailant was shot by police and later died of his injuries.
Police said the victim was 47-year-old history teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown the cartoons as part of a class discussion on freedom of expression that had prompted complaints from parents.
Four of the suspect’s relatives -- two brothers and his grandparents -- were initially detained by police for questioning.
The judicial source told AFP Saturday that five more people had been detained, including the parents of a child at the school.
According to the source, the parents had signaled their disagreement with the teacher’s decision to show the cartoons.
The three other new people detained are members of the suspect’s social circle.
The attack came as a trial is in progress over the January 2015 massacre at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, which had published caricatures of the prophet Mohammed that unleashed a wave of anger across the Islamic world.
The magazine defiantly republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial’s opening in September and last month a young Pakistani wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside its former offices.
Identification documents found on the beheading suspect showed he was an 18-year-old born in Moscow but from Russia’s southern region of Chechnya.
The attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) as police confronted him, a cry often heard in jihadist attacks, a police source said.
There had been no previous indication that he was a potential radical, a source close to the investigation said.
French anti-terror prosecutors said they were treating the assault as “a murder linked to a terrorist organization.”
Police said they were investigating a tweet posted from an account -- since shut down -- that showed a picture of the teacher’s head.
It was unclear whether the message, which contained a threat against Macron -- describing him as “the leader of the infidels” -- had been posted by the attacker, they said.
Visibly moved as he visited the scene, Macron said “the entire nation” stood ready to defend teachers and that “obscurantism will not win.”
His office said Saturday a “national tribute” would be held in Paty’s honor.
Prime Minister Jean Castex tweeted that “our teachers will continue to awaken the critical spirit of the citizens of the republic, to emanicipate them from all totalitarianism.”
The Strasbourg-based Assembly of Chechens in Europe said in a statement that “like all French people our community is horrified by this incident.”
At the school, parents and teachers paid tribute to Paty, who was said to have been widely liked and himself a father.
Paty’s former student Martial, 16, said the teacher loved his job: “He really wanted to teach us things -- sometimes we had debates.”
Another student Tiago said he saw Paty on the day he died. “He came to my class to see our teacher. It’s shocking that I won’t see him again.” AFP
“According to my son, he was super nice, super friendly, super kind,” Nordine Chaouadi, a parent of one of Paty’s students, told AFP. AFP