PARIS – A student said he warned his teacher against showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, deemed blasphemous by Muslims, days before he was beheaded on a street in Paris in what French President Emmanuel Macron said qualified as an “Islamist terrorist attack”.
Martial Lusiela, 15, told NBC News he was “shocked” by the attack on Friday afternoon in the upper-middle-class suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of the French capital.
“I wasn’t expecting a beheading – it went too far,” he said, speaking with his parents’ permission, shortly after the incident which left his history teacher of 47 years dead.
French counterterrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard identified the victim as Samuel P.
Ricard told reporters on Saturday that the attacker was an 18-year-old Chechen refugee. He said he was armed with a knife and an airsoft gun that fired plastic bullets. He was shot dead by police shortly after the incident.
Born in Moscow, the teenager had obtained a 10-year residency in France and was not known to the intelligence services, Ricard said.
Text claiming responsibility for the attack and a photo of the victim were found on the suspect’s phone, he said, adding that the suspect was seen at school questioning students about the teacher and that the manager had also received several threatening phone calls.
Ricard said Samuel had been wounded several times and an investigation into suspected terrorist murder had been opened.
On Saturday morning, floral tributes were placed in front of the Bois d’Aulne College, where Samuel had taught. Others were holding signs saying “I am a teacher”.
Student Luisela, said he was in Samuel’s class earlier this month, when the civics teacher showed students the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo magazine in 2015, considered blasphemous by the Muslims. Islam forbids images of the prophet, claiming that they lead to idolatry.
“We told the teacher that it was not good to show photos like this and that would be a huge problem,” Lusiela said. “This is not a cartoon that you should show the class, because there are Muslims in the class. “
Nine people have been taken into custody for questioning as part of the investigation, including four family members of the attackers, a spokesperson for the French anti-terrorism prosecution said on Saturday.
French President Emmanuel Macron Samuel said “was the victim of an Islamist terrorist attack”, speaking from the scene of the incident on Friday evening.
“One of our fellow citizens was murdered today because he was teaching, he was teaching students about freedom of expression,” Macron told reporters.
“Our compatriot was blatantly attacked,” he said. “They won’t win… We will act. Firmly and quickly. You can count on my determination. “
The attack came as Macron’s government continues to work on a bill aimed at combating Islamic radicals. France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe with up to 5 million members, Islam is the second largest religion in the country.
Part of this population is made up of Chechens. In the 1990s, two wars in Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim Russian republic in the North Caucasus, sparked a wave of emigration and many fled to Western Europe.
Muslim leaders in France have widely condemned Friday’s incident, which echoed the attack five years ago on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The media published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, unleashing the divisions that still cast a veil on French society.
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Less than a month ago, a man from Pakistan used a meat cleaver to attack and injure two people on a cigarette break outside the offices where Charlie Hebdo was based at the time of the 2015 attack.
The controversy over the cartoons was reignited last month when Charlie Hebdo decided to repost them to coincide with the start of the trial of accomplices in the 2015 attack.
Al-Qaeda, the militant Islamist group that claimed responsibility for the killings, threatened to attack Charlie Hebdo again after reposting the cartoons.
The magazine said last month it reposted the footage to assert his right to free speech and to show he would not be intimidated by violent attacks. This position has been supported by many leading French politicians and public figures.
Nancy Ing and Matt Bradley reported from Paris. Adela Suliman reported from London.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.