PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron condemned what he called an “Islamist terrorist attack” on a history teacher who was beheaded in a Paris suburb on Friday, urging the nation to stand united against extremism.

The teacher had discussed caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad with his class, authorities said. The suspected attacker was shot dead by police after Friday’s beheading.

The French prosecutor against terrorism launched an investigation into the murder with a suspicion of terrorist motive, the prosecution said.

Macron visited the school where the teacher worked in the town of Conflans-Saint-Honorine and met with staff after the killings. An Associated Press reporter saw three ambulances arriving at the scene, and heavily armed police surrounding the area and police buses parked in green nearby streets.

“One of our countrymen was murdered today because he learned … the freedom of speech, the freedom to believe or not to believe,” Macron said.

He said the attack should not divide France because that is what the extremists want. “We must all stand as citizens,” he said.

The gruesome killing of the teacher took place in the town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine while the suspect was killed by police in neighboring Eragny.

A police officer said the suspect, armed with a knife and an airsoft pistol – which fires plastic bullets – was shot about 600 meters (yard), from which the male teacher was killed after he did not respond to orders to put his arms down , and acted threateningly.

The teacher had received threats after opening a discussion “for a debate” about the caricatures for approx. 10 days ago, the police officer told the Associated Press. The parents of a student had filed a complaint against the teacher, another police officer said, adding that the suspected killer did not have a child at the school. The identity of the suspect was not disclosed.

The identity of the suspect was not disclosed. French media reported that the suspect was an 18-year-old Chechen, born in Moscow. This information could not be confirmed immediately.

The two officials could not be named because they were not authorized to discuss ongoing investigations.

“We did not see it coming,” Conflans resident Remi Tell told CNews television station. He described the city as peaceful.

It was the second terror-related incident since the opening of an ongoing trial of the January 2015 newsroom massacre in the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo following the publication of caricatures of the Prophet of Islam.

When the trial opened, the paper republished caricatures of the Prophet to emphasize the right to free speech. Exactly three weeks ago, a young man from Pakistan was arrested after stabbing two people who were not life-threatening outside the newspaper’s former offices. The 18-year-old told police he was saddened by the publication of the cartoons.

The incident came as Macron’s government is working on a bill to address Islamist radicals that authorities claim is creating a parallel society outside the French republic.

According to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, DC-based think tank, right-wing extremists in the United States were responsible for more than 76% of terrorist attacks and plans in 2019; 90% in the first half of 2020.

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