ARRAS, France (Reuters) – France said on Monday it would speed up the expulsion of radicalised foreigners and beef up a draft immigration law as the government faces stiff criticism from the right after Friday’s fatal stabbing of a teacher.
The attack, in which 20-year-old Mohamed M, who was monitored by police as a possible security risk, killed teacher Dominique Bernard, prompted the government to put the country on its highest security alert and deploy thousands of troops.
President Emmanuel Macron had condemned the attack as “barbaric Islamic terrorism”.
Schools across France on Monday observed a minute of silence for Bernard and for history teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded three years ago by a Chechen teenager who wanted to avenge his use of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad during a class on freedom of expression.
“With my government, we’re doing everything to protect (pupils)… the Republic will never give in to terror,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said ahead of the minute of silence at the school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, where Paty was killed.
Following a government security meeting, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said authorities would comb through lists of people posing security risks and expel those who could be sent out of France, pulling residency permits or asylum protection from those who benefit from either but are seen as a risk.
Darmanin said at the weekend that Friday’s attack had come as a “jihadist atmosphere” developed after a deadly Hamas attack on Israel unleashed retaliatory measures and air strikes.
He added on Monday that a draft new security law, being reviewed by parliament, would have allowed authorities to expel Friday’s attacker a year ago, when he had been suspected of beating up his mother, but that the current legislation did not allow it.
And the government would look at further strengthening the legislation, he said.
Right-wing figure Eric Zemmour added his voice to the criticism of the government, saying immigration, and Macron’s policies, were to blame for the attacks on Paty and Bernard.
“I’ve had more than enough with the powerlessness of the political elite,” Zemmour said.
Earlier on Monday, the Gambetta high school in Arras, northern France, where Bernard was fatally stabbed, was briefly evacuated following a bomb alert.
“We’re going to be afraid all the time, that’s it. She will leave to go to school and we don’t know…,” said Natalie, the mother of a pupil at the school.
Up to 7,000 soldiers are being deployed on increased security patrols in major city centres and at tourist sites, the government said at the weekend.
The security alert comes as France hosts the Rugby World Cup and less than a year before Paris throws open its doors to the world for the Olympic Games.
France has been targeted by a 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.
(Reporting by Pascal Rossignol in Arras and Ingrid Melander, Elizabeth Pineau, Sudip Kar-Gupta; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Toby Chopra, Bernadette Baum and Nick Macfie)
French police and firefighters stand in front of the Gambetta-Carnot school, where French teacher Dominique Bernard was killed in a knife attack on Friday, after the school was evacuated following a bomb alert in Arras, northern France, October 16, 2023. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol