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Teacher killed in ‘terror attack’ at French school ‘died protecting others’ from knife rampage

The language teacher was stabbed to death in the attack at City School Gambetta-Carnot in the town of Arras

Alex Ross
Friday 13 October 2023 17:23 BST
Emergency crews attend scene after teacher dies from school knife attack in France

A teacher stabbed to death at a secondary school in France stepped forward to protect others, said Emmanuel Macron, who described it as a ‘terror attack’.

The French president said the language teacher, named by a colleague as Dominque Bernard, had ‘without doubt saved many lives’.

The attack happened at City School Gambetta-Carnot in the town of Arras in the north of the country on Friday at around 11am. Two other people were injured.

A former pupil of the school, aged in his 20s, has reportedly been arrested (AFP/Getty Images)

French anti-terror prosecutors have taken over the investigation.

Visiting the school, Macron told reporters the attack was the result of “barbaric Islamist terrorism”. He added: “The teacher who was killed had come forward to protect others and had without doubt saved many lives.”

He also said that police had thwarted an “attempted attack” in another French region - but did not provide any more detail.

The suspect being held by police over the school attack is a man in his 20s of Chechen origin who was under surveillance by the French security services over suspected radicalization, local authorities have said.

Emmanuel Macron, followed by Pas-de-Calais Prefect Jacques Billant visit the Gambetta high school in Arras (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The French intelligence services told The Associated Press the man had been closely watched since the summer with tails and telephone surveillance and was stopped as recently as Thursday for a police check that found no wrongdoing.

A police officer, who was one of the first on the scene, told the news agency that the attacker, a former pupil at the school, shouted: “Allahu Akbar” - “God is great” in Arabic.

Police said two other men, a second teacher and a security guard, were in critical condition.

The attack came amid heightened tensions around the world over Hamas’ weekend attack on southern Israel and Israel’s military response.


A philosophy teacher who witnessed the attack told AFP he barricaded himself inside the school until police arrived. He said: “He attacked canteen staff, I wanted to go down to intervene, he turned to me, chased me and asked me if I was a history and geography teacher.

“We barricaded ourselves, then the police arrived and immobilized him.”

A PE teacher told newsoutlet BFMTV he thought the attack was an exercise. He said: “The students are shocked, you can see it in their eyes. I can see very clearly who the victim was. It’s shocking to hear that siren and know it’s for real.”

One pupil told outlet La Voix du Nord: “We were leaving class to go to the canteen when we saw the guy with two knives attacking the teacher, who had blood on him. He tried to calm him down and protect us.

Pupils are said to still be confined to their classrooms (Reuters)
French police announced the situation was under control around an hour after the attack too place (Reuters)

“He told us to leave, but we didn’t really understand, so we ran and others went back upstairs.”

Macron travelled to Arras along with the interior and education ministers. On his visit, he stopped for a moment before the blanket-covered body of the teacher, which was in the parking area in front of the school.

Hundreds of police were deployed around the school and nearby neighbourhoods, including heavily armed units, and barricaded a wide perimeter around the site. Parents said pupils were still confined to the locked-down school more than three hours after the attack.

Meanwhile, political leaders have taken to social media to share their shock and sadness, as The National Assembly in Paris suspended its session in solidarity with the victims.

Yaël Braun-Pivet, president of the country’s National Assembly, said: “Horror has just struck a high school in Arras. My thoughts are with the victim, the injured, their families. I give my full support to the entire teaching community and to the students. Thank you to the law enforcement and emergency services mobilized.”

Jean-Michel Blanquer, former minister for education, said: “The assassination of a professor strikes us down once again. Everything is connected. Our inflexibility in the face of the Islamist hydra is the only way. Any complicity, even intellectual, with terrorism is unbearable.”

The attack has also led to ministers calling for a tightening of security at schools.

Gabriel Attal, minister of education, said: “A knife attack occurred this morning in Arras, causing several victims. I ask you to take without delay all the necessary measures to strengthen the security of all schools and establishments.”

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