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French police say ethnic Chechen from Moscow responsible for teacher’s beheading

Collège Montaigne - Conflans-sainte-Honorine. (Department of Yvelines/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A French official has identified an 18-year-old ethnic Chechen man from Moscow as the attacker who beheaded a schoolteacher in a Paris suburb and who was shot and killed by police shortly after.

Anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard made the announcement on October 17, one day after the gruesome incident, which French President Emmanuel Macron called an “Islamist terrorist attack.”

Ricard told reporters that the attacker had also posted a photograph on Twitter of the teacher’s body, along with a message stating that he had carried out the killing.

Officials say the victim was 47-year-old history and geography teacher Samuel Paty, who earlier this month showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a class discussion on freedom of expression.

French media reported that the discussion had prompted complaints from some students’ parents. Muslims believe that any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous.

French police officials told reporters that nine people have been detained, including the grandparents and 17-year-old brother of the attacker.

“One of our citizens was murdered today because he was teaching. He was teaching students about freedom of expression, the liberty to believe and not believe,” Macron said hours after the incident. “Our compatriot was flagrantly attacked; he was a victim of an Islamist terrorist attack.”

French media reported that the man was spotted holding a knife a short distance away from the attack, in the middle-class suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.

As police confronted him, the attacker shouted “Allahu akbar” — Arabic for “God is most great” — a cry often heard in jihadist attacks, an unnamed police official told AFP.

Police found him armed with a knife and an airsoft gun, which fires plastic pellets, another unnamed official 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.

In France’s parliament, lawmakers stood up to honor the teacher and condemn the “atrocious terror attack.”

France has seen a series of violent attacks carried out by Islamist militants in recent years. It has the biggest Muslim population in Western Europe, with around 5 million adherents, some of them Chechens who have been offered asylum.

The killing in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine carried echoes of an attack five years ago on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The magazine’s staff was targeted by Islamist militants who stormed its offices and gunned down employees in retaliation for the publication of cartoons they deemed blasphemous. The attack killed 12 people, including a police officer, and left 11 more wounded.

A trial is current under way for several of the attackers.

Last month, a man who emigrated from Pakistan wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the magazine’s former offices.

In a tweet, Charlie Hebdo expressed its “sense of horror and revolt” at the beheading.

“Intolerance just reached a new threshold and seems to stop at nothing to impose terror in our country,” it said.