A man armed with a knife killed a teacher at the high school in northern France he once attended and critically wounded another teacher and a security guard Friday, authorities said, an attack being investigated as potential terrorism amid soaring global tensions over the war between Israel and Hamas.
French anti-terror prosecutors said they were leading the investigation into the attack at the Gambetta high school in the city of Arras, some 115 miles north of Paris. They said they were investigating charges including terror-related murder and attempted murder against the suspect, who was arrested.
National police said the suspected assailant was a Russian national of Chechen origin. The French intelligence services said the suspect had been closely watched since the summer with tails and telephone surveillance and was stopped as recently as Thursday for a police check that found no wrongdoing.
Sliman Hamzi, a police officer who was one of the first on the scene said the suspected attacker, a former student at the school, shouted “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic.
Hamzi said he was alerted by another officer who was passing in front of the high school and called in. He “was shouting ‘someone is attacking with a knife,’” Hamzi said
Hamzi said he rushed to the school and saw a male victim lying on the ground outside the school and the attacker being taken away.
“Colleagues arrived quickly but unfortunately couldn’t save the victim,” Hamzi said.
Police said two other men, a second teacher and a security guard, were in critical condition.
School attacks are rare in France. President Emmanuel Macron was heading to the scene along with the interior and education ministers, and the government asked authorities to heighten vigilance at all schools across the country.
Julie Duhamel, an official with the the Unsa teachers’ union in the Pas-de-Calais region that includes Arras, told Franceinfo that teachers had noted the suspect’s radicalization “a few years ago.”
Hundreds of police deployed around the school and nearby neighborhoods, including heavily armed units, and barricaded a wide perimeter around the school. Parents said pupils were still confined to the locked-down school more than three hours after the attack.
Friday's attack came three years after a teacher was beheaded outside a school in suburban Paris. Samuel Paty, a history and geography teacher, was murdered on Oct 16, 2020 — also a Friday — by an 18-year-old who had become radicalized. Like the suspect in Friday's stabbings, that attacker was of Chechen background.
Martin Doussau, a philosophy teacher at the Gambetta high school, said the attacker appeared to be hunting for a history teacher.
“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?'" said Doussau, who recounted how he barricaded himself behind a door until police used a stun gun to subdue the attacker.
“When he turned around and asked me if I am a history teacher, I immediately thought of Samuel Paty,” Doussau told reporters.
The attack came amid heightened tensions around the world over Hamas' weekend attack on southern Israel and Israel's military response, which have killed hundreds of civilians on both sides. There have been calls in Muslim nations for mass protests after Friday prayers over Israel’s intense bombing campaign in Gaza.
Darmanin on Thursday ordered local authorities to ban all pro-Palestinian demonstrations amid a rise in antisemitic acts since the Hamas attack.
France is estimated to have the world’s third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the U.S., and the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.
A vice president of France's lower house of parliament, Naima Moutchou, said the National Assembly “expresses its solidarity and thoughts for the victims, their families and the educational community as we learn that a teacher has been killed and several others have been injured.″
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