Officials in France say they’ve detained nine people in connection to the brutal beheading of a teacher who had allegedly shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a civic lessons.
Police say the teacher was near his school in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Friday when an 18-year-old Chechen refugee attacked him and cut his throat. Authorities say the attacker was later shot dead by police after he didn’t respond to commands to disarm and acted threateningly.
Citing French media, the BBC reports that the teacher began receiving death threats following a lesson on freedom of expression in which the caricatures were said to be shown. The lesson was set in the context of an ongoing trial over the 2015 killings at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical newspaper that came under attack for its caricature of the Prophet Muhammad.
Fourteen suspects are on trial on accusations of giving logistical support to the assailants, who killed 12 people in that attack.
Speaking at the teacher’s school on Friday night, French President Emmanuel Macron called the decapitation an “Islamist terrorist attack.”
“One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught … the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe,” Macron said.
France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor, Jean-Francois Ricard, said a terror investigation has been opened, The Associated Press reported.
Police have detained nine people since the attack, including the suspect’s parents, grandfather and teenage brother, according to the AP.
Ricard told reporters that the suspect was living in Normandy on a 10-year residency and was not known to intelligence services. During his standoff with the police, he had been armed with a knife and air-soft gun, which fired plastic pellets.
A text claiming responsibility for the attack, the prosecutor said, and a picture of the victim were found on the suspect’s phone, according to the AP.
Officials and Muslim leaders throughout France expressed outrage at the slaying.
“We are all affected, all touched by this vile assassination,” said Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer in a video message, according to the AP.
“A civilization does not kill an innocent person, barbarism does,” Tareq Oubrou, imam of a mosque in Bordeaux, told French media, the BBC reports.
The Guardian reports that a man claiming his daughter was in the victim’s class had posted to social media, saying that during a lesson, the teacher had shown an image of a naked man and called him “the Muslim prophet.” Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are prohibited by the Muslim faith.
Before showing the caricatures, the teacher had reportedly asked Muslim students to raise their hands, allowing them to leave the room if they wished. The caricatures had been published in Charlie Hebdo, the Guardian reported.
Parents, former students and locals shared the remorse over the teacher’s death. Flowers appeared outside his school on Saturday. Several also took to social media to express grief.
The French presidential palace said a national tribute will be held for the teacher at a later date.
NPR’S Eleanor Beardsley contributed to this report.