Police on the spot intervened quickly and killed the attacker, Prime Minister Jean Castex told reporters on Friday, referring to the Rambouillet incident as a “terrorist attack”.
Castex said that “our determination to fight terrorism in all its forms is unbroken, more than ever”.
French counter-terrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said: “The way this crime was committed” and “the words spoken by the attacker during the event” led the counter-terrorism office to carry out the investigation.
The assailant had explored the location before launching the stabbing, Castex said. And witnesses heard the attacker shout “Allahu Akhbar”, according to a source close to the investigation.
Castex and French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said they were on their way to Rambouillet, a city of 25,000 inhabitants 35 miles southwest of the capital.
“The Republic has just lost one of its heroines, in an infinitely cowardly barbaric gesture,” he added.
Reacting to the attack, French President Emmanuel Macron said France will not give up the fight against terrorism.
“She was a police officer. Stephanie was killed in her police station in Rambouillet, in the already wounded land of the Yvelines. The nation stands by her family, her colleagues and the police. We do not give up. fight against Islamist terrorism, “Macron said on Twitter.
The attacks intensify the debate on French secularism
The attack comes amid a broad public debate on the French model of secularism, which has ravaged the nation in recent months and is likely to be a key issue in next year’s presidential election.
Known as “laïcité” in French, the separation of church and state is the structure of the country’s political system and is deeply rooted in French culture.
French lawmakers have been working on controversial legislation aimed at fighting Islamist radicalism and strengthening the country’s principle of laïcité, as President Macron attempts to appeal to right-wing voters.
But secularism creates division in a country as diverse as France, which is home to 5 million Muslims, many of whom live in poorer areas and are often marginalized in politics and the media. The vast majority of French Muslims do not support Islamic extremism, but still face unfair stereotypes, experts say.
Critics say the bill, which includes measures that would ban headscarves and other overt religious clothing or symbols, risks discriminating against Muslims.
The bill is currently being examined by a transversal parliamentary commission.
The broader debate on secularism and whether it works in modern, multicultural France has been intensified by the recent terrorist attacks.
Macron subsequently launched a strong defense of the principle of free speech and said that France would not “give up” on the caricatures, which were published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2012.
The attacks are the latest in a series of cartoon-related violence in France over several years. In 2015, 17 people were killed in a terrorist attack that began in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris and continued for three days.
Caricatures are considered blasphemous in Islam, and Macron’s comments sparked widespread anger in many Muslim-majority countries last year.
Antonella Francini contributed to this report from Paris.