President Emmanuel Macron has declared France’s battle against Islamic terrorism “existential” after the murder of a teacher after showing his class a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad from the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper.
Macron, who visited the site near a school 25 km northwest of Paris, said the victim had been “murdered” and his killer was seeking to “attack the republic and its values”. “This is our fight and it is existential. They [terrorists] will not succeed… They will not divide us.
The President spoke after French police shot dead a man who beheaded a teacher with a large kitchen knife. Authorities were quick to announce that the murder was under investigation by an anti-terrorism judge.
Four people, including a minor, have since been arrested.
The victim was a 47-year-old history and geography teacher – the subjects are taught together in France – but also gave the compulsory “moral and civic education” courses. It was within the framework of these, and speaking of freedom of expression, that the teacher showed the pupils, aged 12 to 14, the cartoons. This prompted complaints from a number of relatives and one family filed a legal complaint.
The 18-year-old Moscow-born suspect reportedly shared photos of the attack on social media. Some reports said he had Chechen roots. He was said to have been a “complete stranger” to the country’s intelligence services, but had a small criminal record.
The alarm was raised at 5 p.m. on Friday when local police informed their national colleagues that a body had been found outside a school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine in Yvelines, a northwest suburb of central Paris.
The killer was pursued by the police but refused to surrender and was shot several times after allegedly threatening the police. Officers cordoned off the area after fearing the assailant was wearing an anti-suicide vest.
Counterterrorism prosecutors said they considered the murder a “terrorist organization assassination”.
After the disputed lesson, an angry parent posted a video on YouTube complaining about the teacher. Another parent posted below the video on Friday evening, defending the professor, writing, “I am the parent of a student at this college. The professor just showed Charlie Hebdo cartoons as part of a history class on free speech. He asked the Muslim students to leave the class if they wanted to, out of respect… He was an excellent teacher. He strove to encourage the critical thinking of his students, always with respect and intelligence. Tonight, I am sad, for my daughter, but also for the teachers in France. Can we continue to teach without being afraid of being killed?
The video was taken down on Friday evening.
The mayor of Eragny-sur-Oise Thibault Humbert spoke to journalists about “the horror” of the events in his town. “It is a barbaric act,” he told BFMTV. .
Macron, gloomy and visibly moved, spoke briefly after visiting the college where the murdered professor worked. “One of our compatriots was murdered today for teaching. He taught his students the freedom of speech, the freedom to believe or not to believe. It was a cowardly attack. He was the victim of an Islamist terrorist attack, “Macron said.
“Tonight, my thoughts are with all his relatives, his family, his colleagues at the college where we saw the headmaster show courage last week. Faced with the pressure [from parents], she did her job with remarkable duty.
“Tonight, I want to say to teachers all over France, we are with them, the whole nation is with them today and tomorrow. We must protect them, defend them, allow them to do their job and educate the citizens of tomorrow.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, who was also expected at the scene, tweeted: “Tonight, it was the republic that was attacked with this vile murder of one of his servants, a teacher. My thoughts tonight are with his family. Our unity and steadfastness are the only answers to the monstrosity of Islamic terrorism. We will take care of it. ”
Paris has been on high alert since two journalists from a film production company were stabbed outside the former offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo three weeks ago.
In January 2015, Islamist terrorists Saïd and Chérif Kouachi shot dead 12 people in and around the Charlie Hebdo offices. The next day, gunman Amedy Coulibaly shot dead a policewoman and killed four Jewish people at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket. The Kouachi and Coulibaly brothers were killed in separate shootings with the police.
The trial of 14 people suspected of being linked to the January 2015 attacks is currently being held in a Paris court and is due to continue until November.