On Friday 16 October, 5pm French local time, 47 year old school teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded with a kitchen knife outside his school. French President Emmanuel Macron arrived at the gruesome scene and described it as an “Islamist terror attack” and called on the country to unite.

Macron said: “One of our fellow citizens was assassinated today. He was assassinated because he was a teacher, because he taught his pupils the right to believe or to not believe” and describes this shocking event as an “attack on free speech”.

The Suspect: Aboulakh A

The 18-year-old suspect has been named as Aboulakh A – a Russian national born in Moscow and of Chechen origin. He apparently arrived in France as a young boy with refugee status and was unknown to anti-terrorism police, according to anti-terrorism state prosecutor Jean-François Ricard. He had been in courts before on minor misdemeanour charges.

He has no known connection with the teacher or the school. It is alleged that social media posts by angry parents may have been the source of information.

A History Lesson on Freedom of Speech

Samuel Paty had recently held a class on freedom of speech. It was in this class that Paty showed cartoons, which were caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, within the context of the discussion on freedom of speech. This lesson prompted complaints against the teacher.

The teacher is said to have given the Muslim students the option of leaving the room before showing the images so that they may choose whether to see them as they may be offended.

Terrorism in France

Anti-terror prosecutors are treating the brutal incident as “a murder linked to a terrorist organization”. There have been unconfirmed reports of arrests being made in relation to the attack.

This event comes just a few weeks after another knife attack at the former offices the Charlie Hebdo satire newspaper. An 18 year old man confessed to that attack which injured 2 people. Arrests of several people were made in connection with that attack.

France has had deadly attacks over the years, with over 250 people killed since 2015.

Terrorist incidents map of France 1970-2015. Source: National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. (2016). Global Terrorism Database, University of Maryland. Creative Commons.

Various ministers of the French government have come together to show their support for freedom of speech and express their condolences to Samuel Paty’s family and loved ones.

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