Arras school stabbing: what do we know about the suspect? – Lifotravel

A man of Chechen origin who was under surveillance by French security services over suspected Islamic radicalization stabbed a teacher to death at his former high school and critically wounded three other people Friday in northern France, authorities said.

The attack was being investigated by anti-terror prosecutors amid soaring global tensions over the war between Israel and Hamas. It also happened almost three years after another teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by a radicalized Chechen near a Paris area school.

The man arrested as the main suspect in Friday’s stabbings had been under surveillance since the summer on suspicion of Islamic radicalisation, French intelligence services told The Associated Press. He was detained Thursday for questioning based on the monitoring of his phone calls in recent days, but investigators found no weapon or threat or indication that he was preparing an attack, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

“There was a race against the clock. But there was no threat, no weapon, no indication. We did our our job seriously,” Darmanin said on TF1 television.

The suspect was reportedly refusing to speak to investigators. Several others also were in custody Friday, national counterterrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said. Police said the suspect’s younger brother was held for questioning.

Victim of attack was French teacher

A colleague and a fellow teacher identified the dead educator as Dominique Bernard, a French language teacher at the Gambetta-Carnot school, which enrolls students ages 11-18. The victim “stepped in and probably saved many lives” but two of the wounded – another teacher and a security guard – were fighting for theirs, according to French president Emmanuel Macron.

Sliman Hamzi, a police officer who was one of the first on the scene, said the suspected attacker, a former student at the school, shouted “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic.

Hamzi said he was alerted by another officer, rushed to the school and saw a male victim lying on the ground outside the school and the attacker being taken away. He said the victim had his throat slit. “I’m extremely shocked by what I saw,” the officer said. “It was a horrible thing to see this poor man who was killed on the job by a lunatic.”

The National Police force identified the suspect in the attack as a Russian national of Chechen origin who was born in 2003. The French intelligence services told the AP he had been closely watched since the summer with tails and telephone surveillance and was stopped as recently as Thursday for a police check that found no wrongdoing.

Friday’s attack had echoes of Paty’s slaying on October 16, 2020 – also a Friday – by an 18-year-old who had become radicalised. Like the suspect in Friday’s stabbings, the earlier attacker had a Chechen background; police shot and killed him.

Martin Doussau, a philosophy teacher at Gambetta-Carnot, said the assailant was armed with two knives and appeared to be hunting specifically for a history teacher. Paty taught history and geography.

“I was chased by the attacker, who … asked me if I teach history. (He said), ‘Are you a history teacher, are you a history teacher?'” said Doussau, who recounted how he barricaded himself behind a door until police used a stun gun to subdue the attacker. “When he turned around and asked me if I am a history teacher, I immediately thought of Samuel Paty,” Doussau told reporters.

Prosecutors said they were considering charges of terror-related murder and attempted murder against the suspect.

Suspect’s radicalisation was known to authorities

Julie Duhamel, an official with the the Unsa teachers’ union in the Pas-de-Calais region that includes Arras, told radio network Franceinfo that teachers had flagged the suspect’s radicalisation “a few years ago.”

The suspect’s telephone conversations in recent days gave no indication of an impending attack, leading intelligence officers to conclude that the assailant decided suddenly on Friday to act, intelligence services told the AP.

An older brother was arrested in the summer of 2019 by the DGSI – France’s counter-terrorism intelligence service – on suspicion of being involved in the planning of an attack that was thwarted, and is in jail, French intelligence said.

The older brother also was a former pupil at the high school targeted Friday, according to legal records from his trial earlier this year on terror-related charges. Investigation records show that during a school class in 2016 about freedom of expression, the older brother defended a terror attack in 2015 that killed 12 cartoonists at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

The older brother is serving a 5-year prison term for terror offences. He was convicted this year of involvement in a plot for an armed attack around the presidential Élysee Palace in Paris that was thwarted by the intelligence services. Other members of the radical Islamist group were also jailed for up to 15 years. He was the group’s only Chechen.

Friday’s attack came amid heightened tensions around the world over Hamas’ attack on southern Israel and Israel’s blistering military response, which have killed hundreds of civilians on both sides. Darmanin on Thursday ordered local authorities to ban all pro-Palestinian demonstrations amid a rise in antisemitic acts.

France is estimated to have the world’s third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the US, as well as the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

A moment of silence was held at the opening of a France-Netherlands soccer match Friday night to honor the slain teacher. France’s National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, held a minute of silence for the victims at the opening of its Friday session.

Macron said the school in Arras would reopen as soon as Saturday morning, and he urged the people of France to “stay united.”

“The choice has been made not to give in to terror,” he said. “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.”


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