Suspect shot dead by police after gruesome beheading of history teacher innear Paris was an 18-year-old Chechen refugee, born in Moscow, officials said on Saturday.
France’s anti-terrorism prosecution said authorities investigating Samuel Paty’s murder in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Friday also arrested nine suspects, including the teenager’s grandfather, his parents and his 17-year-old brother.
Paty had discussed the cartoons of the Prophet of Islam Muhammad with his class, which led to threats and a complaint from a relative, police officials said. Islam forbids images of the prophet, claiming that they lead to idolatry. The officials could not be named because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigations.
French counterterrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said an investigation into the suspected terrorist murder had been opened.
Ricard told reporters that the suspect, who had obtained a 10-year residence in France as a refugee in March and was not known to intelligence services, was armed with a knife and an airsoft gun, which shoot plastic balls.
The prosecutor said a text claiming responsibility and a photo of the victim were found on the suspect’s phone. Ricard said the suspect was seen at the school questioning students about the teacher and the principal received several threatening phone calls.
The French leaders offered messages of sadness but also of hope after the murder.
“We will rise up together, thanks to our spirit of solidarity,” said Laurent Brosse, mayor of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.
“We are all affected, all affected by this despicable 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 about 600 meters from where Paty died. Police opened fire after he failed to respond to orders to lay down his arms and acted threateningly. The official could not be named due to ongoing investigations.
French President Emmanuel Macron went to school on Friday evening to denounce what he called an “Islamist terrorist attack”. He urged the nation to unite against extremism.
“One of our compatriots was assassinated today because he taught … freedom of speech, the freedom to believe or not to believe,” Macron said.
The Elysee presidential palace announced on Saturday that there would be a national ceremony at a later date in honor of Paty, few details of which have so far emerged.
In a video posted recently on Twitter, a man describing himself as the father of a student claimed that Paty showed the image of a naked man and told the students that he was the “prophet of Muslims” .
Before showing the footage, the teacher asked the Muslim children to raise their hands and leave the room as he was planning to show something shocking, the man said. “What message did he want to send to these children? What is this hatred?” the man asked. The AP has not been able to independently confirm these claims.
Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim Russian republic in the North Caucasus. Two wars in the 1990s sparked a wave of emigration, with many Chechens heading to Western Europe. France has offered asylum to many Chechens since the Russian military waged war against Islamist separatists in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s.
France has experienced occasional violence involving its Chechen community in recent months, allegedly linked to local criminal activity and settling of scores.
This is the second time in three weeks that terror has struck France linked to the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Last month, a young Pakistani man was arrested after attacking two people with a meat cleaver outside the former offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
The weekly was the target of a deadly attack in the newsroom in 2015, and it reposted the prophet’s cartoons this month to highlight the right to freedom of information as a trial broke. open linked to this attack.
Friday’s terror attack came as Macron’s government is working on a bill to fight Islamic radicals, who authorities say are creating a parallel society outside the values of the French Republic.