ARRAS, Oct 13 (Reuters) – A knifeman fatally stabbed a teacher and wounded two others in an attack at a school in the northern French city of Arras on Friday, and the investigation was handed over to counter-terrorism prosecutors.
The suspected attacker has been arrested, the Pas-de-Calais regional office said. One of his brothers was also arrested nearby. Local people have been told to avoid Arras town centre.
The suspect was a 20-year-old former student at Lycee Gambetta High School, where the attack took place, a police source said. Some described him as a Russian-born Chechen and others as a Russian-born Ingush.
He was on a state watch list of people known to be a potential security risk, the police source added. ‘Fiche S’ contains thousands of names and only a small number are actively tracked.
A security source said the older brother of the alleged attacker was serving a prison sentence for links to Islamist militant networks and glorifying acts of terrorism.
Police could not confirm local media reports that Friday’s attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar”.
“We are all in shock,” said philosophy teacher Martin Doussau, who was chased by the attacker but managed to escape unharmed after locking himself in his room.
Doussau said he witnessed the assailant go after the school cookbook in the yard during a break between two classes before the assailant approached him.
“When I left, I found out that one of our colleagues had been stabbed in the carotid artery and died in front of the school,” he told Reuters.
Regional newspaper La Voix du Nord said the French teacher who died was killed while trying to stop the attacker.
Video obtained by Reuters showed three people – one of them with a chair – trying to stop the attacker in the school parking lot and being hit by him. “He’s got a knife, he’s got a knife,” said one of the onlookers.
A school security guard was seriously injured and another teacher was less seriously injured, a police source said.
A security alarm was triggered later at another school in Arras, a school official told Reuters. A third man was arrested in the incident when he tried to enter the school with a suspicious backpack, French media reported.
France has been the target of a number of Islamist attacks over the years, the worst of which was the simultaneous attack by gunmen and suicide bombers on entertainment venues and cafes in Paris in November 2015.
In 2020, teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by a Chechen teenager seeking revenge for using cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on freedom of speech.
Education Minister Gabriel Attal said security would be beefed up in schools across France.
President Emmanuel Macron traveled to the scene of the attack and paid his respects to the dead teacher, whose body still lay under a blanket and surrounded by a pool of blood. He later spoke to teachers, pupils and other school staff.
In a national address a day earlier, Macron urged the French to remain united and refrain from bringing the conflict between Israel and Hamas home.
A police source said there was no immediate indication of a link between the attack and the conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement.
Witnesses said the attacker did not appear to want to settle a grudge.
“He was looking for a history teacher,” said teacher Doussau. “That’s why I don’t think it was related to a personal problem or settling a personal vendetta with the teacher.
Pupils were locked in their classrooms.
Louis, a 15-year-old pupil, said the students initially assumed it was a drill when the alarm went off and they had to take cover.
“I’m shocked that it happened here… It shows that it can happen anywhere,” he told Reuters.
Arras is a city in the deindustrialized, ethnically diverse northern corner of France, a region where the far right enjoys strong support.
Reports by Pascal Rossignol and Ardee Napolitano in Arras and Michel Rose, Layli Foroudi, Charlotte Van Campenhout, Tassilo Hummel, Benoit van Overstraeten, Blandine Henault in Paris; Screenplay by Ingrid Melander; edited by Richard Lough, Deborah Kyvrikosaios and Jonathan Oatis
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