PARIS — A knife-wielding man decapitated a teacher near a school in a suburb north of Paris on Friday afternoon and was later shot dead by the police, officials said, in a confrontation that quickly escalated into a trauma that captivated all of France.
A police officer with knowledge of the attack confirmed French media reports that the victim was a history teacher at a local school who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class. The officer requested anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
France’s antiterrorism prosecutors immediately took over the investigation, and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin cut short a trip to Morocco to fly back to Paris. President Emmanuel Macron went to the scene, according to the Élysée, seat of the presidency.
Little other information was immediately available about the victim, the attacker or the attack itself, which took place in the suburb of Eragny. But the underlying themes conjured up France’s recent history of terrorist attacks.
The decapitation came three weeks after a knife-wielding man wounded two people in Paris near the site of the former Charlie Hebdo office — the scene of a 2015 terrorist attack targeting the satirical newspaper for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that became the focus of a criminal trial.
On Friday, a police union official told the French television station BFM that witnesses had seen the attacker in Eragny cutting the victim’s throat and shouting “Allahu akbar” — God is greatest.
The national police were called, officials said, and after having discovered the decapitated victim, confronted the assailant nearby, close to a school.
Brandishing a large knife, he threatened the officers, and after refusing to surrender, was shot 10 times, they said.
A prosecutor from the country’s special antiterrorism unit was immediately sent to investigate, officials said.
The killing of the teacher quickly took on national proportions Friday evening. Representatives in France’s parliament rose to “honor the victim’s memory,” said the president of the session, parliamentary deputy Hugues Renson.
“The assassination of a history teacher is an attack on freedom of expression and the values of the republic,” the president of the National Assembly, Richard Ferrand, said on Twitter. “To attack a teacher is to attack all French citizens and freedom,” he said.
“A teacher was killed just for doing his job,” Sophie Venetitay, a teachers’ union official, told BFM. She said the teacher taught a course on freedom of expression, during the course of which the caricatures were shown, “and that seems to have been at the origin of this tragedy.”