A total of nine people in France were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the brutal beheading of a teacher on Friday, October 16. The victim was 47-year-old Samuel Paty, a geography and history teacher at a school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb of Paris. According to the Washington Post, the assailant was shot dead by French police and later identified as Abdoulakh A., an 18-year-old Moscow-born immigrant of Chechen descent.
The New York Times reported that Abdoulakh was heard yelling “Allahu Akhbar,” or “God is Greatest,” as he attacked Paty. Soon after the attack, police found Paty’s body and followed the assailant close to the school, where he refused to put down the knife and was subsequently shot 10 times by officers.
According to Reuters, it is unclear whether Abdoullakh A., the assailant killed by police, acted alone or had accomplices. The authorities detained four of his relatives in the immediate aftermath of the attack, as well as five more in the night following the attack. Among the nine detained were two parents of students who attended the school where the victim taught.
In a striking callback to the 2015 attack on the offices of Charli Hebdo, BBC reported the assailant was angered by the depiction of the prophet Muhammad. The history and geography teacher reportedly asked Muslim students in his class to leave before showing images of a naked man whom he identified as the prophet Muhammad. The New York Times explains, prior to the attack, parents of Paty’s Muslim students posted a video on YouTube in which they expressed shock and anger towards the teacher’s actions.. In the video parents ask, “Why this hatred? Why does a history teacher act like this in front of 13-year-olds?”
EuroNews reported that French President Emmanuel Macron was quick to call the Paty’s murder an “Islamist terrorist attack.” Although the French authorities and government officials pointed at Islamist terrorism, French Muslims have been quick to denounce the attacks and defend their religion. Reuters reports that Tareq Oubrou, the imam of a mosque in Bordeaux, France, refused to accept the idea that the attack signaled a clash of wildly different civilizations. Oubrou reportedly told France Inter, “it is not a civilization that kills an innocent person, it is barbarity.” He went on to add that the acts of these extremists have been devastating for all of France, including France’s Muslim community.
French government officials worked quickly to denounce the attacks. The New York Times reports, the interior minister, who is largely responsible for the French police, shortened his official trip to Morocco and returned to Paris in light of the attack. President of the National Assembly Richard Ferrand tweeted : “The assassination of a history teacher is an attack on freedom of expression and the values of the republic. To attack a teacher is to attack all French citizens and freedom.”