The terror attack at the Lycée Gambetta in Arras, France which took the life of teacher Dominique Bernard last Friday occurred nearly three years to the day after the assassination of Samuel Paty, a history and geography teacher who was killed outside his school in a suburb of Paris on October 16th, 2020, a few days after having shown his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a civics lesson on freedom of expression.
But the Arras school attack was not the second such attack in France in the last three years. It was in fact the third, all of them involving a remarkably similar modus operandi. But French authorities have refused to qualify the second attack as an act of terror.
On May 10th 2022, the 41-year-old French army doctor Alban Gervaise was mortally wounded in a knife attack by one Mohamed L. in front of the Sévigné Catholic school in Marseille. He would succumb to his injuries two weeks later. Gervaise had come to collect two of his children, aged three and seven. His third child, still an infant at the time of the attack, was in the backseat of his car.
Gervaise appears to have had his throat slit, although the French media have preferred to speak euphemistically of his being “wounded in the neck” or “stabbed in the neck” (e.g., here from the day of the attack).
Samuel Paty was also killed in a knife attack. As forensic details show, his killer Abdoullakh Anzorov likewise went for the neck, afterwards pulling out a larger knife in order to fully sever Paty’s head from his body. He would then post a picture of Paty’s severed head on Twitter in claiming responsibility for the attack. The attack is reconstructed in gruesome detail in Stéphane Simon’s Les dernier jours de Samuel Paty (The last days of Samuel Paty).
Dominique Bernard likewise had his throat slit in the Arras attack, as has been briefly and somewhat euphemistically touched upon in reports in the mainstream French media and as was, in any case, clear from video clips circulating in French social media in the immediate aftermath of the attack. (Some screen shots of such videos are available here.) The Arras attacker, Mohammed Mogouchkov, also wounded at least one other of his victims, the gym teacher David Verhaeghe, in the throat. Verhaeghe, however, survived.
According to many accounts, witnesses heard Alban Gervaise’s murderer, Mohammed L., scream that he was acting “in the name of Allah”. (See here, for instance, from the day of the attack in the new media outlet Actu17, which reports on crime and security issues.) France’s mainstream conservative daily Le Figaro, however, preferred merely to reveal that he had screamed “religious allegations” (sic!), saying that he was acting “in the name of God”. This version – “in the name of God” – is the one that would invariably be reproduced in all subsequent reporting on the case in the mainstream French media.
One could well wonder just what God would want his acolytes to kill a father picking up his children from a Catholic school. Be that as it may, this formula is precisely the formula that was used by Abdoullakh Anzorov in claiming responsibility for the assassination of Samuel Paty: “In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful… I have executed one of your dogs of hell who dared to disparage Muhammad” (Simon, Les derniers jours de Samuel Paty).
Both Anzorov and Mogouchkov are reported to have yelled “Allahu Akbar!” during their attacks.
To the dismay of his widow Christelle, French authorities have refused to treat the murder of Alban Gervaise as an act of terrorism, treating it instead as the act of a madman who was wasn’t responsible for his actions at the time of committing them. As Christelle has pointed out in an interview with Le Figaro, the supposedly “delirious” Mohamed L. had already turned up at another school in Marseille just an hour before the attack on her husband, bursting into the car of a teacher who managed to get away and raise the alarm.
The deadliest terror attack at a French school thus far occurred in March 2012, when the 23-year-old apprentice-jihadist Mohammed Merah killed three small children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse.