ARRAS (Reuters) – A knifeman fatally stabbed a teacher and wounded two other people in an attack at a school in the northern France city of Arras on Friday. The investigation was handed to the anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office.
The suspected assailant was arrested, the regional Pas-de-Calais authority said. One of his brothers was also detained nearby. Local people were told to avoid Arras city centre.
The suspect was a former student of the Lycee Gambetta high school where the attack happened, a police source said. He was described by some as a Russian-born Chechen and by others as a Russian-born Ingush.
He was on a state watchlist of people known as a potential security risk, the police source added. The ‘Fiche S’ contains thousands of names and only a small number are actively monitored.
A security source said an elder brother of the alleged assailant was serving time in prison for links to Islamist militant networks and glorification of terrorist acts.
Police could not confirm local media reports that Friday’s attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar”. BFM TV reported he was about 20 years old, and that he had been in France since 2008.
“We’re all in a state of shock,” said philosophy teacher Martin Doussau, who was chased down by the attacker but managed to escape unharmed after locking himself in a room.
Doussau said he witnessed the assailant going after the school’s cook in the yard during a break between two classes before the attacker approached his way.
“It’s when I left that I discovered that one of our colleagues had been stabbed in the carotid artery and died in front of the school,” he told Reuters.
The La Voix du Nord regional newspaper reported the teacher was killed trying to stop the attacker from inflicting harm.
A security alert was also triggered later at another school in Arras, a school worker told Reuters. A third man was arrested in that incident, when he tried to enter the school with a suspicious backpack, French media reported.
France has been targeted by series of Islamist attacks over the years, the worst being a simultaneous assault by gunmen and suicide bombers on entertainment venues and cafes in Paris in November 2015.
Education Minister Gabriel Attal said security would be reinforced in schools throughout France.
President Emmanuel Macron travelled to the scene of the attack and paid his respects to the dead teacher, whose body still lay under a cover and surrounded by a pool of blood.
In a national address a day earlier, Macron urged the French to remain united and refrain from bringing the Israel-Hamas conflict home.
BFM TV said the person killed was a French teacher, while a sports teacher was stabbed and injured.
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 he did not appear to be wanting to settle a grudge.
“He was looking for a history teacher,” teacher Doussau said. “That’s what leaves me thinking this wasn’t related to a personal problem, or about settling a personal vendetta with a teacher.”
Pupils were confined to their classrooms.
Arras is a city in the de-industrialised, ethnically diverse northern corner of France.
In 2020, a teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by a Chechen teenager who wanted to avenge his use of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammad during a class on freedom of expression.
(Reporting 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; Writing by Ingrid Melander; editing by Richard Lough and Deborah Kyvrikosaios)
PHOTO: The mother of a student reacts after a teacher was killed and several people injured in a knife attack at the Lycee Gambetta-Carnot high school in Arras, northern France, October 13, 2023. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol