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LATEST: What we know about France's heightened terror alert

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LATEST: What we know about France's heightened terror alert
France has raised its terror alert to the highest level after the killing of a teacher on Friday. Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP

France has raised its terror alert to the highest level and deployed police and soldiers to protect public buildings around the country, following an apparently Islamist-inspired knife attack at a school.

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On Friday October 13th, a school in Arras, north-east France, was the subject of a knife attack in which a teacher died and two other staff members were injured.

As of Monday the suspect was still in custody and investigations - led by the anti-terror police - were ongoing.

Hours after the attack it was announced that France that it was raising its terror alert to Urgence attentat - the highest alert level - and deploying an extra 7,000 soldiers for security duties.

 

Alert

The extra soldiers will join those already on patrol in France under the umbrella of Operation Sentinelle - a military operation that has been in place since 2015 and which involves soldiers in the French army providing extra security at potential terror targets including tourist sites and transport interchanges.

On Monday soldiers and police could be seen patrolling outside schools and other potential targets such as synagogues, in addition to tourist sites and transport links such as mainline stations.

Over the weekend the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre gallery in Paris were both evacuated due to terror alerts. Both turned out to be false alarms.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin later said that following checks, there had been "no real threat" against the sites. But since Hamas militant group's attack on Israel on October 7th there was "an atmosphere of jihadism".

Since the attacks in Israel and the subsequent military response from Israeli forces, 189 anti-Semitic acts have been reported in France, resulting in 65 arrests, 23 of whom were foreigners.

What happened in the school attack?

At around 11am on Friday, a man entered a lycée (high school) in Arras armed with at least two knives.

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He killed one teacher and wounded two other members of staff, one of whom is in a critical condition. No pupils were injured.

He was arrested at the scene.

Who is the man in custody?

Police say that he is a 20-year-old man of Chechen origin who has been living in France since he was five years old.

He has been named as Mohammed Mogouchkov, a Russian national who entered France in 2008. He had applied for asylum and been rejected - but could not be expelled from France because he was under the age of 13 when he arrived. 

 

He is reported to have shouted "Allahu akbar" during the attack.

Local media reports that he was a former pupil of the lycée that was the target of the attack.

The young man has been fiché S - placed on a watchlist - for extremism, and had been under "active surveillance" by France's internal security service the DGSI (the equivalent of the FBI or MI5) since the end of July.

His brother, aged 17, was detained close to another school, a police source told French media. He was reportedly also under surveillance for extremism.

What do we know about the victims?

The teacher who died has been named as Dominique Bernard, a teacher of French aged 57 who was a father of three.

 

The Physical Education teacher was also injured after tackling the attacker, but his injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.

The third victim was a non-teaching member of staff. He was very seriously injured and remains in a critical condition. 

Terror attacks

Indications are that the attack was linked to violent Islamist extremism, and comes in the context of a tense situation in France following the attacks on Israelis in Gaza by Hamas militants, and the retaliation by Israel. At least 3,000 people have died in Israel and Palestine since Saturday, with many thousands more injured. 

Macron, during a visit to the scene in Arras on Friday, said that security services had foiled another attempted attack on Friday, in a different part of France. He did not specify the area, but French media reported the arrest of a man in Yvelines, in the greater Paris region, who had been acting suspiciously outside a lycée.

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France has large Jewish and Muslim populations and security had been stepped up at religious sites in recent days over fears of attacks linked to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The French interior ministry had banned several planned pro-Palestine marches, due to fears of violence. 

President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation on Thursday that 582 religious and cultural facilities in France were receiving stepped-up police protection.

"Those who confuse the Palestinian cause and the justification of terrorism commit a strong moral, political and strategic error," he said.

Previous attacks

France has suffered a series of attacks by Islamist extremists since 2015.

Most recently, the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty in 2020 near his school in a Paris suburb by a radicalised Chechen refugee led to a wave of shock and renewed debate about the influence of radical Islam.

The attack in Arras comes almost three years to the day after the murder of Paty which took place on October 16th, 2020.

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