Teacher dies in knife attack at school in France | ET REALITY

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The French government raised its terror threat alert to the highest level on Friday after a man with a knife killed a teacher and injured three other people at a school in northern France in what officials described as an attack. Islamist terrorist, who deeply disturbed the country.

The attack put President Emmanuel Macron’s government under intense pressure as officials acknowledged that the main suspect in the attack and several of his relatives had been identified by intelligence services as radicalized or had been convicted on terrorism charges.

The suspect was even brought in for questioning the day before the assault, authorities said, but was released after it was determined he posed no immediate threat.

The stabbing took place at the Gambetta-Carnot public school in Arras, a town of about 42,000 inhabitants, approximately 40 kilometers southwest of Lille, near the border with Belgium.

The suspect was identified by authorities only as Mohammed M., a Russian immigrant born in 2003, who had previously attended the school. He was quickly arrested at the scene, which includes a middle and high school, and counterterrorism prosecutors opened an investigation.

Attacks on schools are rare in France, but this one struck a chord. The country is still haunted by the murder of Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old history teacher who showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class to illustrate freedom of expression and was beheaded by an Islamist extremist because of it on October 16, 2020. .

“Almost three years after the murder of Samuel Paty, terrorism has struck a school again,” President Emmanuel Macron told reporters in Arras, looking somber, after rushing to the scene.

Government officials and school colleagues identified the victim as Dominique Bernard, a French literature teacher, and the injured as a physical education teacher and two other school employees.

“We remain united and firm,” Macron said, against the “barbarism of Islamist terrorism.”

The victim was killed in a “brutal and cowardly way,” said Macron, who praised the surviving teacher for trying to stop the attacker.

Lawmakers in the lower house of Parliament quickly suspended their work in solidarity with the victims and then observed a moment of silence.

The government announced, after an emergency cabinet meeting later on Friday, that it would put the country at the highest of its three threat levels.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said in an interview on TF1 television that the measure was preventive and that authorities had not detected any specific threat.

But Darmanin added, without elaborating, that based on information gathered by French authorities, there was “probably” a link between the attack and the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, part of an “extremely negative atmosphere,” he said.

The attack quickly raised questions about safety in schools: A teacher was killed by a student at a high school in February, although terrorism was ruled out in that case. Gabriel Attal, Minister of Education, said security would be strengthened in schools across the country.

Jean-François Ricard, France’s top anti-terrorism prosecutor, said at a news conference in Arras on Friday that the attacker arrived in front of the school around 11 a.m. There he stabbed two teachers: the one who later died and another who tried to intervene. .

The attacker then entered the school (which was between periods, meaning the doors were open to let students in or out) and shortly after arrived at a courtyard, where several school employees attempted to stop him. Two of them, a technical employee and a cleaning worker, were injured, Ricard said.

Several witnesses heard the attacker shout “God is great” in Arabic during the attack, he added.

“Many investigations are ongoing and must continue to determine exactly how the events unfolded, how the attacker prepared his crime and what potential help he received,” Ricard said, adding that several people are currently in custody for questioning.

Martin-Roch Doussau, a philosophy teacher who has taught at the school for five years, described the school as normally calm and having a positive atmosphere.

In a telephone interview, Doussau said he confronted the attacker in the school yard. The attacker had two knives and turned to him and asked if he was a history teacher, he said. Mr. Doussau barricaded himself behind a door with another teacher until police officers arrived and used stun guns to arrest the attacker.

Doussau said the man did not appear to be targeting specific people, although he seemed determined to find a history teacher. Paty’s murder immediately came to mind, Doussau said.

The job of a teacher in France, he said, is to embody France’s universalist values ​​and promote fraternity among students.

“Our job is to avoid things like this,” he said.

France was hit by large-scale Islamist terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016, followed by a series of smaller but still deadly shootings and stabbings in the following years, often carried out by lone attackers.

The country remains on high alert and the government says police and intelligence services have foiled more than 40 terrorist plots since 2017.

“We are at a time when police protection is extremely strong and firm,” Darmanin said.

But the profile of the Arras attack suspect quickly sparked a storm of criticism from Macron’s political opponents, who said authorities should have seen it coming.

Mohammed M. had been flagged in France’s S Files, a database of people believed to be threats, but who are not necessarily being monitored 24 hours a day.

“This new attack symbolizes the impotence of our state in the face of the Islamist scourge,” Olivier Marleix, a senior legislator from the right-wing Republican Party, said in a statement. statement.

Jordan Bardella, leader of the far-right National Rally party, said the government was responsible for a “moral, political and security failure.”

“It is no longer acceptable for the government to impose on the French an impossible coexistence with human bombs,” Bardella said in a video statement.

Interior Minister Darmanin said intelligence services had recently received information that Mohammed M. had been in contact with other radicalized people, including his brother.

That led intelligence services to tap his phone and put him under surveillance, Darmanin said. But they detected no immediate plans to carry out an attack.

Police briefly detained Mohammed M. on Thursday to check that he did not have a weapon and to check his phone, but officers did not find any signs of an immediate threat, Darmanin said.

Still, Darmanin acknowledged that Mohammed M.’s family had repeatedly crossed the radar of the French security services.

Mohammed M.’s father, who had also been accused of radicalism, was deported in 2018, he said. According to French lawAlthough there are exceptions, Mohammed M. cannot be deported because he arrived in France before the age of 13, Darmanin said, adding that he hoped to remove that obstacle with an upcoming immigration bill.

Ricard, the prosecutor, claimed that Mohammed M.’s older brother was in prison after being convicted in April of participating in a criminal terrorist conspiracy and again in June of glorifying terrorism, and that the two brothers were close. He did not provide further details about those cases.

“We knew there was fertile ground and difficulties with radicalization,” Interior Ministry spokesperson Camille Chaize told BFMTV on Friday. But without intelligence pointing to a specific plot, she added, “how do you detect when someone acts?”

Catalina Porter contributed with reports.

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