A history teacher who opened a discussion with students on caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad was decapitated in a French street and police have shot the suspected killer dead, a police official said.
The French anti-terrorism prosecutor has opened an investigation into the slaying for murder with a suspected terrorist motive, the prosecutor's office said.
The gruesome killing of the teacher occurred in the town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine while the suspect was killed by police in adjoining Eragny. The towns are located in the Val d'Oise region northwest of Paris.
"The body of decapitated man was found at around 5.30 in the afternoon," an investigating source told the Daily Mail.
"When police arrived, the person thought to be responsible was still present and threatened them with his weapons."
A police official said the suspect, armed with a knife and an airsoft gun was shot to death by police about 600m from where the male teacher was killed.
The suspect's identity was not made public. French media reported that the suspect was an 18-year-old Chechen, born in Moscow. That information could not be immediately confirmed.
The teacher had been threatened after opening a discussion "for a debate" about the caricatures, the police official told The Associated Press.
The parent of a student had filed a complaint against the teacher, another police official said, adding that the suspected killer did not have a child at the school.
"We didn't see this coming," Conflans resident Remi Tell said on CNews TV station. He described the town as peaceful.
It was the second terrorism-related incident since the opening of an ongoing trial on the newsroom massacre in January 2015 at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
As the trial opened, the paper republished caricatures of the prophet to underscore the right of freedom of expression. Exactly three weeks ago, a young man from Pakistan was arrested after stabbing, outside the newspaper's former offices, two people who suffered non life-threatening injuries. The 18-year-old told police he was upset about the publication of the caricatures.
France has offered asylum to many Chechens since the Russian military waged war against Islamist separatists in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s, and there are Chechen communities scattered around France.
France has seen occasional violence involving its Chechen community in recent months, in the Dijon region, the Mediterranean city of Nice, and the western town of Saint-Dizier, believed linked to local criminal activity.
Macron denounces terrorist attack
French President Emmanuel Macron denounced what he called the "Islamist terrorist attack" and urged the nation to stand united against extremism.
The incident came as Macron's government is working on a bill to address Islamist radicals who authorities claim are creating a parallel society outside the values of the French Republic.
Macron visited the school where the teacher worked in the town of Conflans-Saint-Honorine and met with staff after the slaying. An Associated Press reporter saw three ambulances arrive at the scene, and heavily armed police surrounding the area and police vans lining leafy nearby streets.
"One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught ... the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe," Macron said.
He said the attack shouldn't divide France because that's what the extremists want. "We must stand all together as citizens," he said.
The attack came as Macron is pushing for a new law against what he calls domestic "separatism," notably by Islamic radicals accused of indoctrinating vulnerable people through home schools, extremist preaching and other activities.
France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe with up to 5 million members, and Islam is the country's No. 2 religion.