French police on Friday shot dead a man who minutes earlier had killed a middle school teacher by slitting his throat in the street in a suburb of Paris, police said on Friday.
France's anti-terror prosecutor said it was investigating the attack, which took place in Conflans Sainte-Honorine, a suburb north-west of Paris. Four people, one a minor, were detained hours later, the office of anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said without elaborating. Police typically fan out to find family and friends of potential suspects in terror cases.
Five more were detained overnight, among them two parents of pupils at the College du Bois d'Aulne where the teacher was employed.
An ID card was found at the scene but police were verifying the identity, a police official said. French media reported that the suspect was an 18-year-old Chechen, born in Moscow. That information could not be immediately confirmed.
Investigators were trying to establish whether the attacker had acted alone or had accomplices.
The teacher had shown pupils in his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, which are considered by Muslims to be blasphemous, according to a police source.
The teacher had received threats after opening a discussion “for a debate” about the caricatures about 10 days ago, a police official told The Associated Press. The parent of a student had filed a complaint against the teacher, another police official said, adding that the suspected killer did not have a child at the school.
The suspected attacker was spotted by a police patrol while carrying a knife a short distance from the scene of the attack. The police shot the suspect dead, according to a police spokesman.
A police source said that witnesses had heard the attacker shout "Allahu Akbar", or "God is Greatest". The police spokesman said that information was being checked.
Another police source also said the victim had been decapitated in the attack, but this was not confirmed.
A Twitter thread posted on October 9 contained allegations that a history teacher in Conflans Sainte-Honorine had shown pupils cartoons purporting to depict the Prophet Mohammad.
The thread 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 by the teacher's actions. Reuters was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the video.
French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin said he had set up a crisis center to deal with Friday's attack, and was keeping President Emmanuel Macron informed.
Macron denounced what he called an “Islamist terrorist attack” and urged the nation to stand united against extremism.
Macron visited the school where the teacher worked in Conflans-Saint-Honorine and met with staff after the slaying. An Associated Press reporter saw three ambulances at the scene, and heavily armed police surrounding the area and police vans lining leafy nearby streets.
“One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught ... the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe,” Macron said.
He said the attack shouldn’t divide France because that’s what the extremists want. “We must stand all together as citizens,” he said.
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 civilizations.
"It is not a civilization that kills an innocent person, it is barbarity," Oubrou told France Inter, adding that the litany of deadly attacks by Islamist militants or their sympathizers 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."
The incident came as Macron’s government works on a bill to address Islamist radicals who authorities claim are creating a parallel society outside the values of the French Republic. France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe with up to 5 million members, and Islam is the country’s No. 2 religion.
France has over the past several years seen a series of violent attacks carried out by Islamist militants.
Late last month, a man who emigrated to France from Pakistan used a meat cleaver to attack and wound two people outside the former offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
That was the spot where Islamist militants gunned down employees of the magazine five years ago in retaliation for the magazine's publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.