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Police: Suspect Shouted 'Allahu Akbar' Before Fatal Stabbing in French School

Police: Suspect Shouted 'Allahu Akbar' Before Fatal Stabbing in French School

French President Emmanuel Macron, alongside French Education Minister Gabriel Attal, right, and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, talks to the press at the Gambetta high school in Arras, northeastern France, on Friday. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

Friday, 13 October 2023 11:27 AM EDT

A man of Chechen origin who was under surveillance by the French security services over suspected radicalization stabbed a teacher to death at his former high school and critically wounded two other people in northern France on Friday, authorities said.

The attack was being investigated as potential terrorism amid soaring global tensions over the war between Israel and Hamas. It also happened almost three years after another teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by a radicalized Chechen man near a Paris area school.

French anti-terror prosecutors were leading the investigation into the stabbings at the Gambetta-Carnot school, which enrolls students ages 11-18 and is located in the city of Arras, some 115 miles (185 kilometers) north of Paris.

A colleague and a fellow teacher identified the dead educator as Dominique Bernard, a French language teacher at the school.

President Emmanuel Macron, who visited the school hours after the attack, said the victim “stepped in and probably saved many lives.” Macron also said that police thwarted an “attempted attack” in another French region after the teacher's fatal stabbing, but he did not provide details.

The suspected assailant in the violence at the school was arrested. The police identified him as a Russian national of Chechen origin who was born in 2003. The French intelligence services told The Associated Press the man had been closely watched since the summer with tails and telephone surveillance and was stopped as recently as Thursday for a police check that found no wrongdoing.

Sliman Hamzi, a police officer who was one of the first on the scene said the suspected attacker, a former student at the school, shouted “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic.

Hamzi said he was alerted by another officer, rushed to the school and saw a male victim lying on the ground outside the school and the attacker being taken away.

“Colleagues arrived quickly but unfortunately couldn’t save the victim,” Hamzi said. He said the victim had his throat slit.

“I’m extremely shocked by what I saw," the officer said. "It was a horrible thing to see this poor man who was killed on the job by a lunatic.”

Police said two other men, a second teacher and a security guard, were in critical condition.

Macron traveled to Arras along with the interior and education ministers. Macron stopped for a moment before the blanket-covered body of the teacher, which was in the parking lot in front of the school. A puddle of blood was visible as forensic experts worked around the body.

Macron then went to see students from the school in an adjacent building. School attacks are rare in France, and the government asked authorities to heighten vigilance at all schools across the country.

Julie Duhamel, an official with the the Unsa teachers’ union in the Pas-de-Calais region that includes Arras, told Franceinfo that teachers had noted the suspect’s radicalization “a few years ago.”

The suspected assailant's telephone conversations in recent days gave no indication of an impending attack, leading intelligence officers to conclude that the assailant decided suddenly on Friday to act, intelligence services told The Associated Press.

The suspect’s brother was arrested in the summer of 2019 by the DGSI — France’s counter-terrorism intelligence service — on suspicion of being involved in the planning of an attack that was thwarted and is in jail, French intelligence said.

Police said another brother was taken into custody for questioning on Friday.

Hundreds of police deployed around the school and nearby neighborhoods, including heavily armed units, and barricaded a wide perimeter around the school. Parents said pupils were still confined to the locked-down school more than three hours after the attack.

Friday's attack had echoes of Paty's slaying on Oct 16, 2020 — also a Friday — by an 18-year-old who had become radicalized. Like the suspect in Friday's stabbings, the attacker had a Chechen background.

Martin Doussau, a philosophy teacher at Gambetta-Carnot, said the assailant was armed with two knives and appeared to be hunting specifically for a history teacher. Paty taught history and geography.

“I was chased by the attacker, who ... asked me if I teach history. [He said], ‘Are you a history teacher, are you a history teacher?'" said Doussau, who recounted how he barricaded himself behind a door until police used a stun gun to subdue the attacker.

“When he turned around and asked me if I am a history teacher, I immediately thought of Samuel Paty,” Doussau told reporters.

Prosecutors said they were considering charges of terror-related murder and attempted murder against the suspect.

The attack came amid heightened tensions around the world over Hamas' weekend attack on southern Israel and Israel's military response, which have killed hundreds of civilians on both sides. There have been calls in Muslim nations for mass protests after Friday prayers over Israel’s intense bombing campaign in Gaza.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on Thursday ordered local authorities to ban all pro-Palestinian demonstrations amid a rise in antisemitic acts since the Hamas attack.

France is estimated to have the world’s third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the U.S., and the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

France’s National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, held a minute of silence for the victims at the opening of its Friday session.

National Assembly Vice President Naima Moutchou said the assembly “expresses its solidarity and thoughts for the victims, their families and the educational community as we learn that a teacher has been killed and several others have been injured.″

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


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A man of Chechen origin who was under surveillance by the French security services over suspected radicalization stabbed a teacher to death at his former high school and critically wounded two other people in northern France on Friday, authorities said.
france, school stabbing arras
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2023-27-13
Friday, 13 October 2023 11:27 AM
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