France raised its security alert to the highest level on Friday after a teacher was brutally stabbed to death and two other adults were severely wounded in a school in the northern town of Arras. This knife attack echoes a similar grisly slaying of a teacher in 2020. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin stated that the attack has a link to events in the Middle East, where civilians were fleeing northern Gaza due to an anticipated Israeli ground offensive following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.
The incident occurred just one day after French President Emmanuel Macron called for unity in a primetime speech amid concerns over the Israel-Hamas conflict spilling over into France, which is home to Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish communities. Pro-Palestinian rallies have been banned in France, but there were sporadic Palestinian solidarity gatherings on Thursday night that police dispersed by firing tear gas and water cannons.
Visiting the scene of the attack in Arras, Macron paid his respects to the slain teacher, whose body was still under a cover surrounded by a pool of blood. Macron described the school as being struck by the barbarity of Islamist terrorism and commended the victim for potentially saving many lives by attempting to block the attacker. Macron also mentioned that another attack was foiled by security forces elsewhere in France on the same day.
The suspected attacker, Mohammed Moguchkov, a man in his 20s of Chechen origin, was arrested by the police. He was already on a French national register known as “Fiche S” as a potential security threat and was under surveillance by France’s domestic intelligence agency. The suspect reportedly cried “Allahu akbar!” (God is greatest!) during the attack. Moguchkov had been detained for questioning on suspicions of radicalism the day before the attack, but no weapon or threat was found.
The victim, a French teacher, suffered stab wounds to the throat and chest. The security agent at the school was stabbed multiple times and is currently in critical condition, while another teacher is in a less serious condition. Fortunately, no pupils were injured during the attack.
This incident comes almost three years after the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, also by a Chechen man, in 2020 near his school in a Paris suburb. Police detained Moguchkov’s 17-year-old brother close to another school. French intelligence sources described Moguchkov as a radicalized individual whose potential to act was known but decided to take action suddenly.
The pupils and teachers were initially confined to the school premises but were later allowed to leave in the afternoon. A large security cordon was set up around the school, with police, firefighters, and emergency services deployed. Parents gathered outside the school, where they could see their children through the windows. A terror investigation has been opened into the attack.
France has experienced a series of attacks by Islamist extremists since 2015, including the November 2015 suicide and gun attacks in Paris, which were claimed by the Islamic State group and resulted in the deaths of 130 people. While there has been a relative lull in recent years, officials have consistently warned that the threat remains.
This attack occurred amidst heightened tensions globally following Hamas’ attack on southern Israel and Israel's military response, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians on both sides. Muslim nations have called for mass protests after Friday prayers in response to Israel’s intensive bombing campaign in Gaza.
In a national address, Macron announced that 582 religious and cultural facilities in France were receiving increased police protection following the Hamas attack. In Arras, Macron emphasized the need for the French to stand united and not give in to terror. The school where the attack took place will reopen on Saturday, with Education Minister Gabriel Attal emphasizing the need for reinforced security at schools without delay.
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