French Authorities Link Deadly School Stabbing to Islamic Extremism

The 20-year-old suspect was on an Islamic radicalization watchlist, and the school also fell victim to a bomb threat Monday.
Published: October 16, 2023

ARTICLE UPDATE – Oct. 16, 2023:

ARRAS, France — Several French authorities have confirmed Friday’s attack at Gambetta High School, which left one teacher dead and three others injured, is linked to Islamic extremism.

French President Emmanuel Macron described the attack as “Islamic terrorism.” French intelligence suggested a link between the war between Israel and Hamas and the suspect’s decision to attack, said Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

Police said the attacker, a Russian-born Chechen, was on a watchlist of people known to be at risk of Islamic radicalization and had been questioned by investigators the day prior, according to News Sky. The 20-year-old was reportedly the subject of “active monitoring” by France’s General Directorate of Internal Security DGSI. Authorities decided to detain him for questioning after tailing him and listening to his phone calls for several days. Darmanin said investigators found no signs the former student was planning an attack.

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Several others were also in custody Friday, said national counterterrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard, and the suspect’s younger brother was among those held for questioning. The man’s older brother is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for his connection to a radical Islamist group, reports VOA News. The suspect’s father was also expelled from France in 2018 for radicalism, said Darmanin.

The deceased teacher has been identified as Dominique Bernard. Macron visited the school on Friday and said Bernard’s actions during the attack “undoubtedly saved a lot of lives.” Macron said another teacher and a security guard were gravely wounded after suffering several stab wounds. A cleaning worker was also injured.

Friday’s attack occurred just short of three years after another teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by a radical Islamist near a Paris school. The attacker, who also had a Chechen background, was shot and killed by police.

“Nearly three years to the day after the assassination of Samuel Paty, terrorism has hit a school again and in a context that we’re all aware of,” Macron said during his visit to Gambetta High School.

Darmanin said Friday’s attack prompted the government to place France on its highest security alert and mobilize 7,000 soldiers. Macron made the decision after convening an emergency meeting of his security cabinet on Friday night. Senior government ministers, police, military, and intelligence officials attended the meeting which came after a second security incident was confirmed, according to Euro News. A 24-year-old man known to have been “radicalized” was arrested and placed in police custody for carrying a knife as he left a mosque in Limay, which is on the outskirts of Paris. The man’s motives weren’t immediately clear, police said.

Macron held another special security meeting on Monday, according to ABC News. Speaking at the end of the meeting, Darmanin said 102 people have been arrested in connection to antisemitic acts or inciting terrorism since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

Gambetta High School Evacuated After Bomb Threat

Gambetta High School was also evacuated Monday morning following a bomb threat. Although there were no classes scheduled on Monday, the school was open for students and staff to pay tribute to Bernard. All French schools held a moment of silence on Monday afternoon to honor him and the injured.

In a social media post to teachers, Macron wrote “we took action, we are taking action and we will continue to take action to ensure that school remains a sanctuary for our students and for all those who work there.”

“To blind hatred, we will always oppose the inextinguishable thirst for teaching,” he added. “The thirst for knowledge. The thirst for living free.”

Education Minister Gabriel Attal said 168 bomb threats have been made against French schools since the beginning of September.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE – Oct. 13, 2023:

ARRAS, France — An anti-terrorism investigation is underway after a teacher was killed and three others were injured when a man armed with a knife attacked them at Gambetta High School in northern France on Friday.

Sliman Hamzi, a police officer who was one of the first to respond to the scene, said he was alerted by another officer who was passing in front of the school and called in the attack around 11 a.m. local time, AP reports. When he arrived at the school, he saw the victim who died lying on the ground outside the school. The other injured employees were a teacher, a security guard, and a cleaning worker. One is in critical condition and the other was wounded less seriously, BFMTV reported.

Hamzi said the suspected attacker, a former student at the school, shouted “Allahu akbar,” which means “God is great” in Arabic. He was arrested at the scene.

Julie Duhamel, an official with the Unsa teachers’ union in the Pas-de-Calais region that includes Arras, told franceinfo that teachers had noted the suspect’s radicalization several years ago. A police source told franceinfo that the suspect’s brother was also arrested at a nearby school. Police also said the suspect is of Chechen origin and on the national security register, The Independent reports.

Students were placed on lockdown during the incident. Some reportedly witnessed the attack.

“We were leaving class to go to the canteen when we saw the guy with two knives attacking the teacher, who had blood on him. He tried to calm him down and protect us,” a student told La Voix du Nord. “He told us to leave, but we didn’t really understand, so we ran and others went back upstairs.”

Martin Doussau, a philosophy teacher at the school, said he was pursued by the attacker but managed to escape after locking himself in a room.

“I was chased by the attacker who asked me if I teach history. [He said,] ‘Are you a history teacher, are you a history teacher?’” he said. “He was looking for a history teacher. That’s what leaves me thinking this wasn’t related to a personal problem, or about settling a personal vendetta with a teacher.”

France’s National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office said it was investigating the attack as an act of terrorism following Hamas’ attack on Israel over the weekend and Israel’s military response against Gaza City, both of which have killed hundreds of innocent civilians in Israel and Palestine.

The attack comes on the day that Hamas’ former leader called on members of Islam to wage a “day of Jihad,” which translates to a struggle or fight against its perceived enemies. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Thursday ordered local authorities to ban all pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

France is estimated to have the world’s third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the United States. It has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

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