As further details emerged, the incident went back to some of the most explosive debates in the French national encyclopedia: the value of freedom of speech in a country that, unlike the United States, adheres to hate-speech laws and the place of Islam in a nominally secular , but postcolonial societies where Muslims are among the largest minority groups.
French authorities identified the victim as 47-year-old Samuel Paty, who taught both history and geography at a school in the northwestern Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. The assailant, who was shot by police, was identified as Abdoulakh A., an 1
“This is our fight and it is existential,” Macron said late Friday, speaking from the scene.
French authorities do not usually reveal the suspect’s last name.
Police detained four of the suspect’s relatives shortly after the attack, according to Reuters. Five people were detained overnight, including the father of a student at Patys school, the College du Bois d’Aulne, and an acquaintance of the student’s father, who was known to the intelligence services.
Jean-François Ricard, France’s top prosecutor against terrorism, told a news conference on Saturday that a photo of the teacher’s body had been found on the attacker’s mobile phone. The photo was sent to Twitter with a statement claiming responsibility for the attack “in the name of Allah.” The post has been removed and Twitter has suspended the account.
The attack in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a quiet, middle-class clave, is the latest iteration of what has become an all-too-frequent plotline in France: public broadcasting of Muhammad comics followed by deadly revenge.
In fact, Paty had recently shown his students caricatures of Muhammad precisely because of that legacy as part of a lesson on free expression in the midst of the ongoing Charlie Hebdo trial.
Last month, the long-awaited trial against 14 alleged accomplices opened in the attack on the office of Europe’s most famous satirical newspaper in January 2015, which had been targeted by two French al-Qaeda affiliates because it had previously published Muhammad’s cartoons. Twelve people, including nine journalists from the newspaper, were killed.
To mark the beginning of the trial, Charlie Hebdo once again released a symbolic cover of Muhammad comics.
Pathy’s decision to show these drawings to teenagers raised eyebrows, with some Muslim parents complaining about the school’s management, French media reported. One of the offended parents took his dispute to social media, which is probably how the suspect – who had no ties to the school or the parents’ dispute – was told about the problem, authorities suggested.
But according to some parents, Paty had also tried to be as sensitive as possible to offensive potential in the images he wanted to discuss.
Nordine Chaouadi, a parent of a 13-year-old in Patys’ class, told Agence France-Presse that he had allowed Muslim students to leave the classroom during the discussion.
“At no time would he be disrespectful – that’s what my son told me,” he said.
Ricard said at the press conference that the suspect lurked outside the school earlier Friday afternoon and that he asked students to point out Paty as they left. He then beheaded his victim.
The attack also comes amid Macron’s push to fight what he called “Islamist separatism” in a major speech earlier this month. Broadly conceived, the “reform” of Islam has been a difficult political goal for French presidents since the late 1980s, but recent events are likely to shed a more urgent light on it.
In addition to Friday’s attack, another attack was launched late last month at the opening of the Charlie Hebdo trial: A 25-year-old Pakistani immigrant stabbed two people outside the newspaper’s former offices, whom he was unaware of, had moved to a new place.
Macron declared a national memorial on Wednesday, and a demonstration in honor of Paty is scheduled for Sunday afternoon in Paris.
In a statement, Charlie Hebdo expressed a “feeling of horror and rebellion after a teacher in the line of duty was murdered by a religious fanatic.”
“We express our deepest support to his family, his loved ones and all the teachers.”