French law enforcement officials have detained nine people in connection with the beheading on Friday evening of a schoolteacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in his class, French media reported.
Police shot and killed the murder suspect, who was not named, but was described by the authorities as an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin, who was born in Moscow.
The victim of the gruesome crime, in Conflans-Saint-Honorine, about 30 kilometers outside of Paris, was identified as Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old history and geography teacher at a middle school, who also taught a course in morality and civics.
The nine detained individuals include relatives of the attacker, including one minor, as well as parents of students who attend the middle school where the victim taught. The parents had complained about Paty’s use of caricatures of the Prophet, which were shown in class as part of a discussion about freedom of expression. The teacher had reportedly offered students the option of leaving the classroom if they were offended by the images.
One parent filed a criminal complaint against Paty, France’s anti-terrorism public prosecutor, Jean-François Ricard, said in a press conference Saturday. The teacher filed a complaint of defamation in response.
The parent also criticized Paty in a video posted to social media that included a call for “mobilization” against the teacher, according to Ricard.
Investigators found a text claiming responsibility for the attack and a photograph of the dead victim on the assailant’s phone, Ricard said, adding that the man was “unknown to intelligence services.”
Police are also investigating a tweet by the account @Tchetchene_270, which has since been suspended, that included a photograph of the victim’s severed head along with a message to French President Emmanuel Macron: “To Macron, the leader of the infidels, I executed one of your hellhounds who dared to belittle Muhammad, calm his fellow human beings before a harsh punishment is inflicted on you.”
Macron, who visited the scene of the attack on Friday, called the killing an “Islamist terrorist attack” and described France as being in an “existential” fight against terror.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also condemned the murder. She described herself as “horrified” and issued a statement in solidarity with educators. “Without them, there are no citizens,” she wrote on Twitter. “Without them, there is no democracy.”