France: Police shoot suspect after reported decapitation near Paris

A suspect has been shot dead after a knife attack in the outskirts of Paris. The victim was a teacher who had reportedly recently shown caricatures of Muhammad in class. French police shot a man dead on Friday after he allegedly decapitated a teacher near Paris.

The suspect allegedly beheaded a man at about 5 p.m. in Conflans Sainte-Honorine, north-west of Paris. Officers were called to the area after reports of a suspicious man loitering near the victim’s school. They found the dead victim and saw the alleged perpetrator nearby.

He was then shot dead after allegedly threatening officers. Police asked the public to avoid the area, 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the center of Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron described the incident as an “Islamist terror attack” and urged the nation to unite.

He said the victim was murdered because he was a teacher and taught freedom of expression, after Macron visited the scene. “The whole country stands behind its teachers. Terrorists will not divide France, obscurantism will not win,” he said.

Police earlier told reporters that the victim was a middle school teacher who had recently held a class on freedom of speech in which he showed caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Police officials told the Associated Press that the victim had received threats after opening a discussion “for a debate” about the caricatures about 10 days ago. An official told the news agency that the parent of a student had filed a complaint against the teacher.

French anti-terror prosecutors said they were treating the incident as “a murder linked to a terrorist organisation” and related to a “criminal association with terrorists.” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin cut short his trip to Morocco and returned to Paris. He later announced he had set up a crisis center to deal with the attack. 

‘Unbelievably violent’

Local Mayor Eragny Thibault Humbert told Europe 1: “It’s unbelievably violent.”

“It is necessary to underline the speed with which the police officers neutralized the individual,” he said. A Twitter account purportedly operated by the killer posted a gruesome, unverified image of the killing and claimed responsibility for the attack shortly after the incident. The account was quickly suspended.

Local media have identified the attacker as an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin, citing unnamed sources. The Russian embassy in Paris later requested information about the suspect from French authorities, Russian news agency TASS reported. French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said on Twitter said the incident would strengthen the fight against radical Islam. “Our unity and our resolve are the only responses faced with the monstrosity of Islamist terrorism,” the minister wrote.

The President of the National Assembly Richard Ferrand said on Twitter: “The assassination of a history teacher is an attack on freedom of expression and the values of the Republic.”

Deadly attacks in France

France has seen a spate of deadly attacks in recent years, with over 250 people killed since 2015. The latest incident comes just weeks after another knife attack on the former offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which injured two people. In 2015 several staff members at Charlie Hebdo were killed after publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

The paper recently republished the caricatures.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more details become available.

aw/rs (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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