PARIS >> The suspect, who was shot dead by police after beheading a history teacher near Paris, was an 18-year-old Chechen refugee, unknown to intelligence services, who posted a gruesome statement of responsibility on social media minutes after the attack.
The French anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office said authorities investigating the murder of Samuel Pati in the Conflans-Saint-Honorine district on Friday had arrested nine suspects, including a teenage grandfather, parents and a 17-year-old brother.
Pati discussed with his class caricatures of the Prophet Islam Muhammad, which led to threats, police said.
Islam forbids the images of the Prophet, claiming that they lead to idolatry. Officials could not be named because they did not have the authority to discuss the ongoing investigations.
French counter-terrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said the investigation into the murder on suspicion of terrorism was open.
Ricard told reporters that the suspect, who was born in Moscow and was granted a 10-year residence in France as a refugee in March, was armed with a knife and an airsoft gun that fired plastic pellets.
His half-sister joined the Islamic State group in Syria in 2014, Ricard said. He did not name her, and it is unclear where she is now.
The prosecutor stated that a text with a statement of responsibility and a photo of the victim were found on the suspect’s phone.
He also confirmed that the Twitter account under the name Abdullah A belonged to the suspect. It published a photo of the beheaded man a few minutes after the attack, as well as the message: “I executed one of the hell who dared to imprison Muhammad.”
Ricard said the suspect was seen at the school and students were questioned about the teacher, and the principal received several threatening phone calls.
Today, mourners marched in solidarity near the school, holding signs reading “I am a teacher.”
“We will come together, thanks to our spirit of solidarity,” said Laurent Bros., mayor of Conflan-Saint-Honorine.
A police officer said the suspect was shot dead about 600 meters from Pati’s death site. Police opened fire after he did not respond to orders to lay down his arms and acted threateningly. The official could not be named due to ongoing investigations.
French President Emmanuel Macron went to school on Friday night to condemn what he called an “Islamist terrorist attack.” He called on the nation to be united against extremism.
“One of our compatriots was killed today because he taught … freedom of expression, freedom to believe or not to believe,” Macron said.
The Presidential Elysee Palace has announced a national ceremony in honor of Pati in the future.
In a video recently posted on Twitter, a man who describes himself as the student’s father claimed that Pati showed an image of a naked man and told the students that he was a “Muslim prophet.”
Before showing the image, the teacher asked the Muslim children to raise their hands and leave the room because he planned to show something shocking, the man said. “What message did he want to send to these children? What is hatred? “- the man asked. AP couldn’t confirm these claims independently.
Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim Russian republic in the North Caucasus. Two wars in the 1990s caused a wave of emigration, and many Chechens headed for Western Europe. France has offered asylum to many Chechens as the Russian military waged war against Islamist separatists in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who used huge federal subsidies to rebuild the province and suppressed any resistance to his guarded security forces, condemned the killing of the teacher, but also warned against insulting the feelings of Muslims.
“We condemn this act of terror and express our condolences to the relatives of the deceased,” Kadyrov said in his blog. “Opposing categorically against any manifestation of terrorism, I also urge not to provoke believers, not to offend their religious feelings.”
He went on to criticize French society for what he called “provocative” disrespect for Islamic values. “When France has a proper state institution of interethnic and interfaith relations, then the country will have a healthy society.”
Kadyrov noted that the Chechen suspect visited the region only once when he was 2 years old.
This is the second time in three weeks that France has been struck by the terror of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Last month, a young man from Pakistan was arrested after attacking two people with a meat grinder near the former Charlie Hebdo offices.
The weekly was the target of a deadly attack on the editorial office in 2015, and this month it republished cartoons of the prophet to emphasize the right to freedom of information during the trial related to the attack.
The terrorist attack on Friday occurred as the Macron government worked on a bill to fight Islamic radicals, who authorities say are creating a parallel society outside the values of the French Republic.
Elaine Leyenley participated in this report.