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France: Attacker in deadly school stabbing pledged allegiance to Islamic State, says prosecutor

A French language teacher was killed in the stabbing incident that shook France and caused authorities to remain on high alert. Two of the attacker's family members face terrorism-related charges, including a 16-year-old brother who provided some support to the assault.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Paris Published on: October 17, 2023 20:38 IST
France remains on heightened alert since the fatal school
Image Source : AP France remains on heightened alert since the fatal school stabbing

The suspected Islamist who killed a French teacher in a stabbing incident in a high school had declared allegiance to the Islamic State terror group before initiating the attack, alleged the country's anti-terror prosecutor on Tuesday.

The accused armed with a knife stabbed a teacher to death and injured three others at the Gambetta-Carnot School in Arras city. The incident is being investigated as potential terrorism and brings back painful memories of the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty in 2020, who was killed for showing controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad to his students.

The suspected attacker is of Chechen origin who attended the school and had been under surveillance by intelligence agencies for radicalisation. He is currently under custody along with several others, according to prosecutors.

According to the prosecutor Jean-François Ricard, police found an audio recording on the suspect's phone, in which he was reportedly heard declaring allegiance to ISIS and expressed his "hatred for France, for the French, for democracy and the education he benefitted from in" the country.

Ricard further said that the attacker had made a 30-second video of himself before the incident, where he "repeatedly attacked, in his own words, the values of the French. He expressed some particularly threatening views." He also expressed support for Muslims in Iraq, Asia and Palestinian territories, but did not link the attack with the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Two of the attacker's family members also face formal terrorism-related charges, including his 16-year-old younger brother who is suspected of providing support to the assault and advising him on handling knives, said the prosecutor. The other person is a cousin who allegedly was aware of a possible crime but did nothing to stop it.

At least 13 people were detained for questioning since Friday, but ten of them have been cleared of any wrongdoing, said Ricard. The deceased victim was identified as as Dominique Bernard, a French language teacher at the Gambetta-Carnot school, which enrolls students ages 11-18. 

Another teacher, a cleaning worker and a security guard were in critical condition with wounds from the stabbing, police and a counter-terrorism prosecutor said.

France on high alert

After the incident shook France, authorities went on high alert as President Emmanuel Macron deployed 7,000 soldiers will be mobilised to increase security across the country. "The choice has been made not to give in to terror. We must not let anything divide us, and we must remember that schools and the transmission of knowledge are at the heart of this fight against ignorance," Macron said.

Macron also held a special security meeting on Monday amid heightened alert against feared terror threats. Meanwhile, hundreds of students and teachers could be seen going back to the high school.

The French President had to cut short travel plans abroad to hold a security meeting at midday with the prime minister and other key government members as well as top military and counterterrorism officials.

Schoolchildren and educators held a moment of silence in all French schools on Monday afternoon in homage to the teacher who was fatally stabbed in Friday's attack. The homage will also pay tribute to Samuel Paty, killed exactly three years ago near his Paris area school.

Context of Israel-Hamas War

Earlier, French intelligence agencies suggested that there was a link between the Israel-Hamas war and the stabbing incident, according to Darmanin. At least 12 people have been detained near schools and places of worship since the Hamas attack.

Notably, France has the world's third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the United States, and the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. Darmanin has banned pro-Palestinian protests due to unrest over the Israel-Hamas war and the rise in anti-semitic activities across the country.

The Macron government registered 24 arrests for over 100 anti-semitic actions in France since the Hamas attack on Saturday. Some people have been caught with knives near Jewish schools and a drone was spotted over a Jewish cultural centre. Over 2,000 cases of anti-semitic speech have been reported to an online watchdog force.

(with AP inputs)

ALSO READ | France to deploy 7,000 troops after teacher killed in school stabbing by suspected radical Islamist

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