ARRAS (FRANCE): A man of Chechen origin stabbed to death a teacher and severely wounded two other adults Friday at a school in northeastern France, with prosecutors opening a probe into a suspected act of terror.
The attack in the town of Arras comes with France, which has large Jewish and Muslim populations, on high alert for security risks following the Hamas attack on Israel last weekend.
The attacker, 20, who has not been named, was from Russia’s mainly Muslim southern Caucasus region of Chechnya and was already on a French national register known as “Fiche S” as a potential security threat, a police souce, told AFP.
The perpetrator cried the Arabic phrase “Allahu akbar!” (God is greatest!), according to the preliminary elements of the investigation, a second police source added.
Those wounded were a school security agent who was stabbed multiple times and fighting for his life and a teacher who is in a less serious condition, the source added.
No pupil at the school was hurt, said another police source.
The attack comes almost three years to the day after the October 16, 2020 beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, also by a Chechen, near his school in a Paris suburb.
The suspect in Friday’s violence has been detained by police, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
His brother, aged 17, was detained close to another school, a third police source added.
– Panic in school –
Local police said that the situation had been contained and no longer posed a danger to the public.
The school pupils and the teachers were confined to the school premises.
A large security cordon was set up around the school, where the police, firefighters and emergency services were deployed, AFP journalists said.
Parents gathered in front of the school, where the pupils were visible through the windows.
A philosophy teacher who witnessed the attack, Martin Dousseau, described a moment of panic during break-time, when the schoolchildren found themselves face-to-face with the armed man.
“He attacked canteen staff. I wanted to go down to intervene, he turned to me, chased me and asked me if I was a history and geography teacher,” said Dousseau. “We barricaded ourselves in, then the police arrived and immobilised him.”
A terror investigation was immediately opened into the attack, prosecutors said.
The country has suffered a series of attacks by Islamist extremists since 2015 including the suicide and gun attacks in November 2015 on targets in Paris claimed by Islamic State (IS) that killed 130 people.
There has been a relative lull in recent years, even as officials have warned that the threat remains.
– Stepped-up-protection –
President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation on Thursday that 582 religious and cultural facilities in France were receiving stepped-up police protection after the attack by Hamas on Israel.
“Those who confuse the Palestinian cause and the justification of terrorism commit a strong moral, political and strategic error,” he said.
His office said he would head to the scene in Arras.
French Education Minister Gabriel Attal said in a message to regional education officials security should be reinforced at schools “without delay”.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Thursday banned pro-Palestinian demonstrations in France until further notice on the grounds they “are likely to generate disturbances to public order,” adding that organisers should face arrest.
In defiance of his order, several hundred people gathered in the central Place de la Republique in Paris and other French cities including Lille and Toulouse late Thursday shouting pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli slogans, AFP correspondents said.
Police in Paris used tear gas and pressure hoses to disperse the protesters, and said they had arrested 10 out of the some 3,000 people present.