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France launches terrorism probe after teacher killed in knife attack

A middle school history teacher in France was knifed to death near the school where earlier this month he had shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, French officials said on Friday. The attacker was shot dead by police.

Teacher had shown students cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, police source says

Police officers secure the area near the scene of a deadly attack in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Friday. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

A middle school history teacher in France was knifed to death near the school where earlier this month he had shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad considered blasphemous by Muslims, French officials said on Friday.

The attacker was shot dead by a police patrol a few streets away from the scene of the attack late on Friday afternoon, in a residential suburb northwest of Paris.

"One of our fellow citizens was assassinated today because he was teaching, he was teaching pupils about freedom of expression," French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at the scene of the attack.

"Our compatriot was flagrantly attacked, was the victim of an Islamist terrorist attack," Macron said. "They won't win.… We will act. Firmly and quickly. You can count on my determination."

The French anti-terrorism prosecutor is investigating.

WATCH | France's President Macron visits scene of knife attack:

President Emmanuel Macron was among a group of onlookers and police who gathered on a street outside Paris where police shot and killed a man who minutes earlier had killed a middle school teacher. 0:51

Four people, one a minor, were detained hours later, the prosecutor's office said, without elaborating. Police typically fan out to find family and friends of potential suspects in suspected terror cases.

The killing carried echoes of the attack five years ago on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after it published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed, unleashing divisions that are still casting a pall over French society.

Friday's killing, by targeting a teacher, was interpreted by many public figures as an attack on the essence of French statehood, with the values it espouses of secularism, freedom of worship, and freedom of expression.

"This evening, it's the Republic that's under attack," Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer wrote in a tweet.

The victim of Friday's attack sustained multiple knife wounds to the neck, according to a police representative. One law enforcement source said the teacher had been beheaded in the attack.

French broadcaster BFMTV reported that the suspected attacker was 18 years old and born in Moscow. Law enforcement officials did not name the attacker, or his victim.

A police source said that witnesses to Friday's attack had heard the assailant shout "Allahu akbar," or "God is great."

The attack took place in the street in front of the middle school where the victim worked, in the suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. The area is a middle-class neighborhood with many residents who commute to work in Paris.

Police gather outside the school where the the history teacher was killed. France's anti-terror prosecutor said it was investigating the attack. (Michel Euler/The Associated Press)

According to French media reports, the teacher who was killed had earlier this month shown pupils the cartoons as part of a civics lesson.

A Twitter thread posted on Oct. 9 contained a video of a man who said his daughter, a Muslim, was one of the pupils in the class, and that she was shocked and upset by the teacher's actions.

The man in the video urged Twitter users to complain to the authorities and get the teacher removed from his post. Reuters was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the video.

'A new threshold'

France has over the past years seen a series of violent attacks by Islamist militants, including the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks, and bombings and shootings in November 2015 at the Bataclan theater and sites around Paris that killed 130 people.

Less than a month ago, a man originally from Pakistan used a meat cleaver to attack and wound two people who were on a cigarette break outside the offices where Charlie Hebdo was based at the time of the 2015 attack.

The issue of the cartoons was revived last month when Charlie Hebdo decided to republish 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 2015 attack, threatened to attack Charlie Hebdo again after it republished the cartoons.

The magazine said last month it published to assert its right to freedom of expression, and to show it would not be cowed into silence by violent attacks. That stance was backed by many prominent French politicians and public figures.

Reacting to Friday's attack outside the school, Charlie Hebdo wrote on its Twitter account: "Intolerance has crossed a new threshold and does not seem to give ground to anything in imposing its terror on our country."

With files from The Associated Press

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