As further details emerged, the incident reignited some of the most explosive debates in the French national lexicon: the value of free expression in a country that, unlike the United States, does abide by hate-speech laws, and the place of Islam in a nominally secular but post-colonial society in which Muslims are among the largest minority groups.
French authorities identified the victim as 47-year-old Samuel Paty, who taught both history and geography at a school in the northwestern Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. The assailant, who was shot dead by police, was identified as Abdoulakh A., an 18-year-old Moscow-born immigrant of Chechen descent who carried out what President Emmanuel Macron did not hesitate to call an “Islamist terrorist attack.”
“This is our battle, and it is existential,” Macron said late Friday, speaking from the scene of the crime.
French authorities commonly do not disclose the surname of suspects.
Police detained four of the suspect’s relatives soon after the attack, according to Reuters. Five more people were detained overnight, including the father of a pupil at Paty’s school, College du Bois d’Aulne, and an acquaintance of the pupil’s father known to the intelligence services.
Jean-François Ricard, France’s top anti-terrorism prosecutor, said at a news conference Saturday that a photo of the teacher’s body was found on the assailant’s cellphone. The image was posted to Twitter with a statement claiming responsibility for the attack “in the name of Allah.” The post has been removed, and Twitter has suspended the account.
The attack in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a quiet, middle-class enclave, is the latest iteration of what has become an all-too-frequent plotline in France: the public airing of Muhammad cartoons followed by deadly revenge.
In fact, Paty had recently shown his students caricatures of Muhammad precisely because of that legacy, as part of a lesson on free expression in the midst of the ongoing Charlie Hebdo trial.
Last month saw the opening of the long-awaited trial of 14 alleged accomplices in the January 2015 attack on the offices of Europe’s most famous satirical newspaper, which had been targeted by two French al-Qaeda affiliates because it had previously published Muhammad cartoons. Twelve people, including nine journalists from the newspaper, were killed.
To mark the beginning of the trial, Charlie Hebdo again published a symbolic cover with Muhammad cartoons.
Paty’s decision to show these drawings to teenage children raised eyebrows, with some Muslim parents complaining to the school’s leadership, French media reported. One of the offended parents took his dispute to social media, which is probably how the suspect — who had no known ties to the school or to that parental dispute — learned of the issue, authorities suggested.
But according to some parents, Paty had…