France has elevated its security alert to the highest level following a suspected radical Islamist assault that resulted in the death of a teacher and injuries to three others in the northern region of the country. The Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne, announced on Friday night that the nation would be under an “urgent” terrorist alert for a limited period as they assessed the level of risk.
This decision came after an individual under surveillance as an Islamist extremist fatally stabbed a French teacher, Dominique Bernard, 57, at a secondary school in Arras, located in northern France. Bernard succumbed to multiple neck wounds in the school’s courtyard as his colleagues attempted to intervene; the attacker happened to be a former pupil.
During a press conference on Friday evening, Jean-François Ricard, France’s anti-terrorist prosecutor, disclosed that the suspect, identified as Mohammed M, 20, had actually killed one person and injured three others, contradicting earlier reports of two casualties. Witnesses reported hearing the suspect shout “Allahu Akbar” as he launched his attack on the staff at the Gambetta-Carnot school in central Arras. Ricard further confirmed that authorities had convicted the suspect’s elder brother, who was two years his senior, in April on two terrorism-related charges, sentencing him to five years and 18 months in prison.
Police revealed that Mohammed M was born in 2003 in the Republic of Ingushetia in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region. He had arrived in France in 2008 with his parents and four siblings. Other sources indicated that the country’s intelligence services, including phone monitoring, had identified the 20-year-old as a potential security risk just 11 days prior and had been conducting surveillance on him. The police had stopped him on Thursday but released him as they found no valid reason for detention.
The attack on Friday bore a grim resemblance to the killing of Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old history and geography teacher, almost exactly three years earlier, by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee outside his school in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.
Ricard revealed that law enforcement had detained several individuals with connections to the suspect for questioning. However, he did not confirm whether they had also arrested one of the suspect’s younger brothers after the incident on Friday.
On Friday evening, Gérald Darmanin, the French Interior Minister, expressed his belief in a connection between the Arras attack and the assaults carried out by Hamas terrorists in Israel. He noted that the suspect had been closely monitored by DGSI, the country’s internal security services, who had tapped his phone. Darmanin stated, “He was in contact with his brother” during a television interview.
The attack occurred at approximately 11 am, and a video circulating on social media, captured by students, depicted a man in a dark grey jacket wielding a knife and targeting people in the school courtyard. One of the victims attempted to fend off the attacker with a chair. A second teacher, reportedly a physical education instructor, and a school security guard were hospitalized in critical condition on Friday evening, as was another member of the school’s canteen staff.
Martin Doussau, a philosophy teacher at the Arras school, recounted a face-to-face encounter with the suspect. He mentioned that the man repeatedly and aggressively questioned whether he was a history teacher.