A man of Chechen origin stabbed to death a teacher and severely wounded two other adults on Friday at a school in northeastern France, with President Emmanuel Macron denoucing an act of “Islamist 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.
“This school was struck by the barbarity of Islamist terrorism,” Macron said after visiting the school in Arras, saying the victim had “probably saved many lives” with his courage in seeking to block the attacker.
Macron said a second attack had been foiled elsewhere in France by security forces on Friday, but did not give details.
The suspected attacker, Mohammed Moguchkov, who is in his 20s, was arrested by police.
He is 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 source told AFP, and under electronic and physical surveillance by France’s domestic intelligence agency, the DGSI.
Moguchkov cried the Arabic phrase “Allahu akbar!” (God is greatest!), according to the preliminary elements of the investigation.
The victim, a French teacher, was stabbed in the throat and chest.
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 pupils at the school were 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.
“Three years after the assasination of Samuel Paty, terrorism has struck a school again and in a context that we all know,” Macron said.
Police say Moguchkov’s brother, aged 17, was detained close to another school.
Moguchkov’s profile is one of “a radicalised individual whose potential (to act) is known, but who suddenly decides to take action,” a French intelligence source, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
– Panic in school –
The pupils and teachers were confined to the school premises before being allowed out later in the afternoon.
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 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 –
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.
Speaking in Arras, he reaffirmed his message from that address for the French to “stand shoulder to shoulder” and “stay united”.
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.