French schools were on Monday set to hold a minute of silence for a teacher killed by a former pupil in what the government has described as an Islamist terror attack, as President Emmanuel Macron called for a “ruthless” approach towards extremists.
The knife attack on Friday in the northern city of Arras, almost three years to the day after a similar killing outside Paris, has shocked teachers and members of the wider public, triggered a massive security response and prompted France to increase its attack alert level.
Macron has told ministers to “embody a state that is ruthless towards all those who harbour hate and terrorist ideologies”, a senior aide told reporters.
He later wrote that schools would remain a “bulwark” against extremism and “a sanctuary for our pupils and everyone who works there” in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
The killing of the teacher has further increased nervousness in France, which has large Muslim and Jewish populations and has been on the alert for violence since Hamas’s attack on Israel.
Classes will pause for a minute of silence at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT) to remember French teacher Dominique Bernard, 57. He was stabbed to death at the school in Arras in an attack that also wounded three others.
Early lessons were cancelled in middle and high schools on Monday to allow teachers to discuss the attack and how to deal with it in front of pupils.
Nevertheless, “we will not allow terrorism to bring our country to a standstill”, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday. Macron would chair a new national security meeting later on Monday, the Elysee said.
Bernard was killed almost three years to the day after teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded outside his school in a Paris suburb, on October 16, 2020.
Paty’s killer and the suspected Arras assailant share a background in Russia’s North Caucasus region.
– ‘Special approach’ –
Police have named Friday’s suspected perpetrator as Mohammed Moguchkov, 20. He was born in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia and reportedly arrived in France at the age of five.
He reportedly cried “Allahu akbar!” (God is greatest) during the attack. He has been detained but has not yet spoken, according to a police source.
He was already on a French national register as a potential security threat and under electronic and physical surveillance by France’s domestic intelligence agency, the DGSI. His father, who was also on the list, was deported in 2018.
Three years ago, Paty was beheaded by 18-year-old Abdullah Anzorov, a radicalised refugee born in Moscow to ethnic Chechen parents. Like Ingushetia, Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim republic in Russia’s Caucasus region.
Anzorov, who had come to France as a six-year-old, was shot dead by police at the scene.
Macron has called on police to comb through their files of radicalised people who could be deported from France to make sure no-one has been overlooked.
He has told the interior minister to take a “special approach to young men between the ages of 16 and 25 from the Caucasus”, the aide said.
Friday’s killing has led to calls for tighter security at schools. The government has already put the country on high alert and deployed 7,000 troops.
– Political fight –
More than 260 people have been killed in France since 2012 in assaults blamed on, or claimed by, Islamist radicals — from mass killings in Paris and Nice in 2015 and 2016, to individual murders of teachers, police officers or a priest.
The string of violent incidents has kept security and immigration issues at the forefront of political debate.
On Monday, National Assembly (lower house) speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, who belongs to Macron’s Renaissance party, said that a draft immigration law should be voted through “by the end of the year”.
The bill provides that “people who are not integrated, who are radicalised, who swear ferocious hatred against the (French) republic… must indeed be able to be removed”, she told broadcaster France 2.
Resistance to the draft law has come from the conservative Republicans, who reject other provisions allowing for the regularisation of some migrants without residence permits.