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France pays respects to teacher killed in Islamist attack

A crowd watched the funeral on a large screen set up in the town square
A crowd watched the funeral on a large screen set up in the town square - Copyright AFP Brendan Smialowski
A crowd watched the funeral on a large screen set up in the town square - Copyright AFP Brendan Smialowski
Valérie LEROUX, Béatrice JOANNIS

A French teacher stabbed to death last week by an Islamist former pupil was to be laid to rest on Thursday, after a funeral in the northern city of Arras attended by President Emmanuel Macron.

The service in Arras cathedral for 57-year-old Dominique Bernard was broadcast on a large screen in the city’s Heroes’ Square, where hundreds watched in the rain.

Bernard, married to another teacher and father of three adult children, was posthumously awarded the Legion of Honour by Macron.

The award is France’s highest civilian decoration.

He was “a wonderful person, someone who was a loyal friend, who drew on deep values”, former colleague Paule Orsini told AFP on Wednesday.

Maxime, a former pupil, said Bernard was “kind” and “passionate” about his job as a French teacher.

“He loved to help us discover literature. He always had little extra things to say about the authors he was presenting,” he told AFP as he waited on the square for the funeral to start.

Much of central Arras was locked down for the service, with traffic kept out until the afternoon.

– Bomb threats –

Classes had also been cancelled at the Gambetta-Carnot school where Bernard taught, allowing staff and pupils to attend the ceremony.

He was killed almost three years to the day after teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded outside his school in a Paris suburb by a radicalised young man.

Bernard’s murder was in a fresh shock for the profession and the wider French public.

Both Bernard’s attacker, 20-year-old Mohammed Mogouchkov, and Paty’s killer were originally from Russia’s mainly Muslim North Caucasus region.

Institutions around France have been subject to bomb threats since Friday’s killing, including a string of airports, the Louvre Museum and the historic Palace of Versailles outside Paris.

Bernard’s own school was targeted by a threat on Monday, when staff and pupils were set to hold a minute of silence in his memory.

Nerves were already on edge in France, which has large Muslim and Jewish populations, following Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel and the Israeli retaliation against the Gaza strip.

The school killing has stoked France’s fierce political debate around immigration and security. 

The government is speeding up the parliamentary calendar for a new immigration law.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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