French President Emmanuel Macron speaks near the scene of a terror attack in which a teacher was beheaded on Oct. 16, 2020. (Emmanuel Macron/Twitter video)

French Professor Beheaded in Terror Attack After Lesson on Muhammad Cartoon Controversy

A history professor in France who had recently discussed the controversy of Muhammad cartoons published by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in the context of a class on free expression was beheaded outside of his school today.

The crime comes after ISIS and al-Qaeda had called for fresh attacks to emulate or further the aims of the 2015 mass shooting at the magazine’s office, in which brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi killed 12 people. Fourteen suspects accused of aiding the terror attack went on trial last month.

“A citizen has been murdered today because he was a teacher and because he taught freedom of expression,” French President Emmanuel Macron said near the college in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, calling the murder an “Islamist terrorist attack.”

According to Le Parisien, the attacker was an 18-year-old of Chechen origin with a criminal history who was spotted by police holding a kitchen knife and was shot to death after he brandished a gun at officers. The attacker reportedly posted a video of the teacher’s severed head before being taken down by officers.

The newspaper reported that the professor, identified as Samuel Paty, 47, received death threats on social media after his recent class studying freedom of expression. FRANCE 24 reported that the teacher had asked Muslim students to leave the room before he showed the Muhammad caricatures so that they would not be offended.

“Our unity and our resolve are the only responses faced with the monstrosity of Islamist terrorism,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer tweeted.

The beheading happened three weeks after two production company employees standing outside smoking were seriously wounded when they were attacked with a meat cleaver by a 25-year-old Pakistani man on the street in front of Charlie Hebdo’s old office in the city’s 11th district. The location of the magazine’s current office is kept secret.

In August, an English-language monthly magazine produced by ISIS supporters urged followers to “race” to emulate the Charlie Hebdo attack, arguing that governments aren’t doing enough to punish those viewed by the terror group as blasphemers.

The seventh issue of “The Voice of Hind,” released online by ISIS supporters in India, told Muslims that “the governments you live under are providing full support and protection to every person who attacks our beloved prophet, under the pretext of freedom of expression.” The article then called the Charlie Hebdo attack an operation “with Faith and riffles [sp]” to “wreak havoc in the broad daylight to avenge the Messenger (PBUH) for being abused by this newspaper.”

The Kouachis and “all those brothers who come out” to attack accused blasphemers are “leaving a clear path for others to follow,” the magazine stated. “Yes, my dear brothers; this is the way to defend the Messenger (PBUH), there is no other way! We cannot expect the disbelieving and apostate governments to carry out the punishment for the blasphemy prescribed by Islam.”

That punishment, the article continues, is “nothing but death,” and followers should “race to one another to carry out this obligation.”

“If we do not become forceful, then the assaults on our religion… will continue,” the text stated, calling on supporters to “take revenge on each and every one who has insulted our beloved Messenger (PBUH).”

Then, on Sept. 11, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula issued a message calling on Muslims living in France to conduct attacks, referencing the Charlie Hebdo attack.

AQAP claimed the 2015 attack with a statement then to the Associated Press declaring that “the leadership of AQAP directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully as revenge for the honor of the prophet.”

That statement included late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s warnings for those the terror group considers blasphemers and vowed to keep “hitting the snake’s head … until the West retreats.”

AQAP senior cleric Sheikh Harith al-Nadhari also issued a recording denouncing the “filthy” French as “the heads of infidelity who insult the prophets,” and praised the gunmen who “taught them a lesson and the limits of freedom of speech.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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