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Nine arrested over beheading of French teacher

The 47-year-old history teacher Samuel Paty was killed after showing his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad
The suspect was shot and killed by police near the school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris (AFP)

French police have arrested nine people over the beheading of a teacher near his school in a Paris suburb, a judicial source said on Saturday, in what President Emmanuel Macron labelled an "Islamist terror attack".

The source said the killing was carried out by an 18-year-old Chechen, who was then shot and killed by police near the scene in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris.

Police said the victim was 47-year-old history teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his pupils some cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a class discussion on freedom of expression, a lesson that had prompted complaints from parents.

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Two of the suspect's brothers and his grandparents were initially detained by police for questioning.

The judicial source told AFP on Saturday that five more people had been detained, including the parents of a child at the school and friends of the suspect.

According to the source, the parents had signalled their disagreement with the teacher's decision to show the cartoons.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said France would react with the greatest firmness over the attack.

The attack came as a trial is in progress over the January 2015 massacre at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, which had published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed that unleashed a wave of anger across the Islamic world.

The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial in September, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside its former offices.

Threat against Macron

Documents found on the beheading suspect showed he was an 18-year-old born in Moscow but from Russia's southern region of Chechnya.

The attacker shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) as police confronted him, a police source said.

There had been no previous indication that he was a potential radical, a source close to the investigation said. 

French anti-terrorism prosecutors said they were treating the assault as "a murder linked to a terrorist organisation".

Police said they were investigating a tweet posted from an account, since shut down, that showed a picture of the teacher's head.

It was unclear whether the message, which contained a threat against Macron, described as "the leader of the infidels", had been posted by the attacker, they said.

'National tribute'

Visiting the scene, Macron said "the entire nation" stood ready to defend teachers and that "obscurantism will not win".

His office said on Saturday that a "national tribute" would be held in Paty's honour.

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Prime Minister Castex tweeted that teachers would continue to "awaken the critical spirit of the citizens of the republic, to emancipate them from all totalitarianism".

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen expressed her condolences, saying her thoughts were with teachers in France and across Europe. 

"Without them, there are no citizens. Without them, there is no democracy," she tweeted.

The Strasbourg-based Assembly of Chechens in Europe said in a statement that "like all French people our community is horrified by this incident".


According to parents and teachers, Paty told Muslim children they could leave before he showed the cartoon, telling them he did not want their feelings hurt.

Sources said one of those detained was a father who had posted a video on social media expressing shock that cartoons showing the prophet "naked" had been shown in his daughter's class.

In the video, the father had reportedly called Paty a "rogue" who should no longer be a teacher and called on other parents to mobilise.

Rodrigo Arenas, head of the FCPE parents' association, said a complaint had been received from a "very agitated" father.

In a tweet, Charlie Hebdo expressed its "sense of horror and revolt" at Friday's attack.

Police went to the scene after receiving a call about a suspicious individual loitering near the school, a police source said.

They discovered the dead man and soon spotted the suspect, armed with a blade, who threatened the officers as they tried to arrest him.

They opened fire, and he later died of gunshot wounds.

Anti-terrorist prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said on Saturday that the suspect had approached pupils in the street and asked them to point out his victim.

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