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Wilfried Nancy named head coach of CF Montreal, team to start season in Florida

After overhauling their name and look, CF Montreal have announced their latest adjustments — a new coach and a new temporary home.

The club announced Monday that former assistant coach Wilfried Nancy has been promoted to the top job. He takes over from Thierry Henry, who resigned last month citing family reasons.

“I’m not going to lie — soccer, football, it is my passion,” Nancy told reporters Monday. “For me, this is a good step.”

Montreal also announced it will open the season playing home games in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., because of border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nancy, a 43-year-old Frenchman, has been an assistant coach with the first team since 2016, and said he wants to build on what the group accomplished last season.

Montreal finished the regular season with a 8-13-2, good for ninth spot in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference. The club — known as the Montreal Impact before a rebrand in January — made the playoffs for the first time since 2016, but was eliminated by the New England Revolution in the play-in round.

‘We’re going to be a good team’

The team established a style of play last year, Nancy said.

“We will continue that style of play,” he said. “We’re going to be a good team, proactive, dynamic and we will be able also to put produce on the opposition.”

Working under Henry — formerly a marquee striker with Arsenal in the English Premier League — was an illuminating experience, Nancy said.

“I worked with a champion,” he said. “Thierry was a star as a player and I understood why he was a star,.”

Henry was a demanding coach who found it hard to accept that players would make mistakes, but he also set a strong example for the team, Nancy said.

“For me, it was good to learn from Thierry about the desire to win and the desire to succeed,” he said. “This is the first time that I can see that close to me.”

CF Montreal announced on Feb. 25 that Henry was stepping down after a single season as the club’s head coach.

There was a lot of interest in the job from people across Europe and North America, sporting director Olivier Renard said. While he declined to say who else was considered, Renard added that the pandemic wasn’t an obstacle in the hiring process.

What set Nancy apart from other applicants was his determination and his familiarity with the club, Renard said.

“I know his philosophy, I know what he wants to do for the club. And the club knows also what he makes the last 10 years of the club,” he said.

“It’s not only we gave him the chance, he deserved the chance also.”

While’s Nancy’s contract is for one year, Renard said in French that the new coach doesn’t have a sword hanging over his head.

Nancy said he understands the situation and is OK with it.

“I have to do my job now as a coach to go forward,” he said.

Experience developing young talent

Before joining the first team as an assistant coach, Nancy worked as a coach in the club’s academy system.

His experience developing young talent is part of what makes Nancy a good fit for the head coach role, Renard said.

“One of the best qualities of Wil is his communication with young guys,” he said. “We need that.”

Assistant coaches Kwame Ampadu and Laurent Ciman, goalkeeper coach Remy Vercoutre and fitness coach Jules Gueguen will complete Nancy’s staff.

The newly minted coach and his team opened training camp in Montreal last week, but will soon make the move to a warmer locale.

Club to play in Fort Lauderdale

The club announced Monday that it will begin its season in Florida, playing at Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale and using Inter Miami CF’s facilities for daily training.

CF Montreal is set to move south on April 6 and plans to play two pre-season games in Florida before the MLS season begins on April 17.

The club will have ample Canadian company in the Sunshine State. The Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC are all playing in Florida due to border restrictions and the Canadian national men’s soccer team also will play a home World Cup qualifying game in the state.

The restrictions forced all three Canadian MLS teams to move south last season. Montreal finished out the year in Harrison, N.J., sharing a stadium with the New York Red Bulls.

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Canadian Alphonso Davies named to L’Equipe’s world team of the year

Canadian star Alphonso Davies earned another honour Monday, named to L’Equipe’s world team of the year for 2020.

The 20-year-old fullback from Edmonton is one of four current Bayern Munich players on the all-star team assembled by the respected French sports daily. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, midfielder Joshua Kimmich and striker Robert Lewandowski are also featured, as is former Bayern midfielder Thiago Alcantara, now with Liverpool.

Davies has already been named to the FIFPRO men’s World 11, the first North American to be voted onto the all-star squad by his peers. In 2020, he won the Champions League, Bundesliga title. DFB Cup and UEFA Super Cup with Bayern. He was named Bundesliga rookie of the year for 2019-20.

The L’Equipe world team also includes Liverpool defenders Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander- Arnott, Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo and Paris Saint-German forward Neymar.

There was no place for Barcelona star forward Lionel Messi.

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Activist, champion: Naomi Osaka named AP Female Athlete of Year

With tennis, like so much of the world, shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Naomi Osaka found herself with time to read and think.

And while she won the U.S. Open for her third Grand Slam title, she also stood out for speaking out about racial injustice and police brutality.

As noteworthy in 2020 for her activism away from the tennis court as her success on it, Osaka was selected by The Associated Press as the Female Athlete of the Year in results revealed Sunday after a vote by AP member sports editors and AP beat writers.

 WATCH | CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux on the year that was:

Athletes around the world raised a collective voice in an unprecedented show of power. 5:03

“It was difficult to be isolated from my family for large parts of the year, but that’s nothing compared to others. It was sad to watch and read the news of people suffering from COVID-19, and the economic and social effect on so many — losing jobs, mental health. It was such a tough year for so many people,” Osaka wrote in an email interview. “And then watching the police injustices like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake [to name just a few] in the summer broke my heart. I am proud of my U.S. Open victory, but more so that I got people talking about the real issues.”

Osaka collected 18 of 35 first-place votes and a total of 71 points.

WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart was next with nine first-place votes and 60 points, followed by Sarah Fuller, the Vanderbilt soccer player who kicked for the school’s football team, with one first-place vote and 24 points.

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris jointly named Time’s ‘Person of the Year’

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris were jointly named Time magazine’s 2020 “Person of the Year” on Thursday, chosen from a list of finalists that included the man Biden vanquished at the polls – President Donald Trump.

The Democratic former vice-president and his running mate, a California senator whose election broke gender and racial barriers, together “offered restoration and renewal in a single ticket,” Time said in a profile of the pair, published online with its announcement.

Following the most tumultuous U.S. presidential campaign in modern times, waged in the throes of a deadly pandemic, economic devastation and a strife-torn national reckoning with racism, Biden and Harris prevailed in an election that drew the highest voter turnout in a century.

Time editor-in-chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal credited the victors with succeeding in “an existential debate over what reality we inhabit.”

“For changing the American story, for showing that the forces of empathy are greater than the furies of division, for sharing a vision of healing in a grieving world, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are Time’s 2020 Person of the Year.”

Trump, the 45th U.S. president and Time’s 2016 Person of the Year — so honoured a month after his upset election victory as the Republican nominee that year — was among three other finalists in the running this year, Time said.

The two others, both group candidates, were the healthcare workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic, and participants in the racial justice movement sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Biden and Harris prevailed in an election that drew the highest voter turnout in a century. Time editor-in-chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal credited the victors with succeeding in “an existential debate over what reality we inhabit.” (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

The Person of the Year is usually an individual, but multiple people have been named in the past. The title is one, according to the magazine, signifying “who affected the news or our lives the most, for better, or worse.”

Boy band BTS named Entertainer of the Year

Time began its tradition in 1927. Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg last year became the youngest individual winner of the accolade.

Biden, 78, who served two terms as vice-president to Barack Obama, will become the oldest person to assume the office of U.S. president when he is sworn in on Jan. 20. Harris will become the first woman, the first Black person and the first person of Asian descent to be inaugurated vice-president.

Trump, who has continued to espouse baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him and that he is the rightful winner, is not expected to attend the inauguration.

Along with its Person of the Year honour, Time magazine named the Korean pop group BTS as its Entertainer of the Year, and basketball star LeBron James was crowned Athlete of the Year.

The winners and finalists for various categories were due to be feted during a prime-time special television broadcast on NBC on Thursday night.

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Christine Sinclair’s milestone 185th goal named Canada Soccer’s Moment of the Year

Christine Sinclair’s record-breaking strike at the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship in January has been named the 2020 Canada Soccer Moment of the Year.

The Canada captain scored career goal No. 185 in the 23rd minute of Canada’s opening match against St. Kitts and Nevis on Jan. 29 at H-E-B Park in Edinburg, Texas. That moved Sinclair past retired American Abby Wambach, who had held the world record of 184 goals since 2013.

“When we think back to some of the great moments in sport, we can cherish the moment that our Canadian captain Christine Sinclair became the world’s all-time international goal-scoring record holder,” Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis said in a statement.

“To score 185 goals at the international level is an incredible feat and we may never get to see such a thing again in our lifetime. Watching Christine Sinclair lead Canada on the world stage has offered all of us some of the best memories as sports fans and as proud Canadians.”

WATCH | Sinclair weighs in on becoming all-time international goalscorer:

Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair talks about making history with her 185th goal and has a message for the next generation. 2:56

After tying the record from the penalty spot for a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute, the 37-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., got some help from her friends on the milestone goal.

Jessie Fleming stole the ball from St. Kitts’ Calvonis Prentice, sending it to an onrushing Adriana Leon in space. Leon and Sinclair found themselves on a two-on-one and Leon passed the ball to an unmarked Sinclair, who took a touch with her left foot and then slotted the ball into the corner with her right foot from six yards out.

A smiling Sinclair turned, her arms outstretched and pumped her fists before Leon arrived to hug her. The goal celebration continued on the sideline with Sinclair rolling the ball into her teammates, who went down like bowling pins.

Behind her, the Canadian substitutes had donned goat masks to honour the Greatest Of All Time.

“Christine Sinclair, an absolute treasure to Canada and Canadian sport, is truly deserving of her remarkable achievement in setting the world’s all-time international goal-scoring record,” said Canada Soccer general secretary Peter Montopoli.

“She has been making history throughout her career, leading Canada with skill, determination, pride and honour on the international stage. There is only one Christine Sinclair and she is simply greatest of all time.”

Goal No. 184 came as Canada pressed from the get-go and a defender bundled Sinclair down in the penalty box just minutes after kickoff.

St. Kitts, then ranked 127th in the world, offered little resistance in the 11-0 loss to eighth-ranked Canada. Canada outshot St. Kitts 42-2 (16-2 in shots on target) and had 67 per cent possession.

Few saw the milestone goal with the stadium virtually empty. Mexico-Jamaica was the marquee nightcap game, no doubt because of Edinburg’s close proximity to the border.

WATCH | Top goals from the ‘Greatest of All Time’:

Canadian captain Christine Sinclair scored her 185th international goal on Wednesday to break the all-time record, so we look back at some of her best. 3:54

Sinclair’s historic goal came in her 290th career game for Canada. Wambach, who retired in 2015, compiled her total in 255 games.

Sinclair then scored goal No. 186 in a win over Mexico on Feb. 4 at the Olympic qualifier. Canada went on to finished runner-up to the U.S. at the tournament.

Canada Soccer Moments of the Year

  • 2019: Canada men’s team defeats the U.S. at the international “A” level for the first time in 34 years.
  • 2018: Canada, Mexico and the U.S. win the rights to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
  • 2017: Toronto FC wins the treble: Canadian Championship, MLS Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup.
  • 2016: Canada women’s team wins its second consecutive Olympic bronze medal after a 2:1 win over host Brazil.

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Alejandro Pozuelo 2nd Toronto FC player to be named MLS MVP

Toronto FC playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo is Major League Soccer’s most valuable player for 2020.

The 29-year-old attacking midfielder from Seville, Spain, was named Landon Donovan MLS MVP over Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake, Seattle midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro and forward Jordan Morris, and Los Angeles FC forward Diego Rossi on Monday.

All five were named to the league’s Best XI, while Blake was also voted goalkeeper of the year.

“I am honoured to be named MLS MVP,” Pozuelo said in a statement. “I want to thank my teammates and our coaching staff as this individual award shows we had a very good season. I am happy to be able to celebrate this award with my wife, my kids and all my friends here in Spain.”

Pozuelo tied for the MLS lead in assists with 10, while finishing tied for eighth in goals with nine in 23 games. He led the league in combined goals and assists (19), chances created (70) and game-winning goals (5).

“Poz had a great season, and we are very happy that he is receiving this award,” said Toronto general manager Ali Curtis. “We also believe that while the MVP is given to one, it is an award that is reflective of the group. This year was challenging in so many ways, but Poz is a competitor, he’s passionate about the game, and he is more than deserving of this award.”

Missed only 55 minutes of regular season

Signed as a designated player in March 2019, Pozuelo has 23 goals and 25 assists in 61 appearances in all competitions for Toronto.

He showed his durability by becoming the first TFC player to start in every regular-season match in a season. He ranked ninth in the league in minutes played (2,015 minutes), missing just 55 minutes of the regular season.

Toronto (13-5-5) went 9-1-4 when Pozuelo scored or had an assist this season.

He joins Italian star Sebastian Giovinco (2015) as the only Toronto player to win the MVP award.

Pozuelo won 35.35 per cent of the vote by MLS players, club officials and media. Rossi was second (17.80), ahead of Lodeiro (10.58), Morris (8.49) and Blake (4.91).

“Congratulations to Alejandro on being awarded the highest of honours in MLS,” said Toronto president Bill Manning. “Since joining our club in 2019 Alejandro’s contributions on the field and in the locker room have been incredible. This year he emerged as one of our leaders and was the chief catalyst as our team finished with the second-highest points per game in the league. This is a well-deserved MVP award for Alejandro.”

Pozuelo was named the MLS player of the month for September and to the MLS team of the week on five occasions.

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Kadeisha Buchanan named Canada’s top women’s soccer player

Hard-nosed Olympique Lyonnais defender Kadeisha Buchanan, who won her fourth Champions League title in 2020 and helped Canada qualify for the Olympics, has been named Canadian Women’s Soccer Player of the Year for a third time.

Like Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, voted Canada’s top men’s player on Thursday, the 25-year-old from Brampton, Ont., lifted the Champions League trophy this year. But while it was a first for the 20-year-old Davies, Buchanan is a four-time winner of the European club competition with French powerhouse Lyon.

“For Kadeisha to have played an integral part in her fourth UEFA Champions League speaks to one of her many accomplishments and contributions to both club and country in which she should be very proud,” Canada women’s coach Bev Priestman said in a statement. “It has been a fantastic season for Kadeisha and it has been great to see her performances and the goals she has scored, too.

“She has world-class qualities that any country would be proud to have and she is a highly valued member of the squad both on and off the pitch, so we are thrilled for her personally in receiving this well-deserved recognition. As a team, to know you have a centre back that opposing forwards hate to play against, it fills the group with confidence.”

WATCH | Lyon wins Champions League title for 5th-straight year:

Lyon have won seven of the last 10 Champions League championships with a 3-1 win over Wolfsburg. 1:05

Buchanan finished ahead of Canada captain Christine Sinclair in voting by Canadian coaches and media. Manchester City’s Janine Beckie and Paris Saint-Germain’s Ashley Lawrence and Jordyn Huitema completed the top five in voting.

Sinclair also had a memorable year.

The 37-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., moved atop soccer’s all-time goal-scoring list — for both men and women — on Jan. 29 at the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Edinburg, Texas.

WATCH | Bring It In with Morgan Campbell, Pilot Episode:

In the pilot episode of Bring It In with Morgan Campbell, panelists Meghan McPeak and Dave Zirin discuss the history made by Sarah Fuller, debate the need for novelty events in sports and participate in a rapid game of In or Out on this week’s biggest stories. 34:24

Sinclair, a 14-time winner of the Canadian Player of the Year award, notched goals No. 184, 185 and 186 at the tournament to pass retired American Abby Wambach.

While Sinclair is a soccer legend, one can argue that Buchanan is Canada’s most decorated soccer player, among men and women.

She has won the women’s European club crown and French league title all four years since making her pro debut in 2017. She has also won the French Cup three times. A winner of the Canadian Player of the Year Award in 2015 and 2017, Buchanan’s trophy case also includes an Olympic bronze medal (Rio 2016) and three CONCACAF silver medals.

At the 2015 World Cup, she won the Hyundai Young Player Award and was chosen to the tournament all-star team.

Buchanan has remarkably lost just four competitive club matches since joining Lyon from West Virginia University in January 2017. An athletic, physical defender who is good in the air, Buchanan has been paired with French star Wendie Renard at the heart of the Lyon defence.

Buchanan featured in 17 games for Lyon this year, scored three goals and was a major part of the team’s 20-match unbeaten streak across all league, cup and UEFA competitions from Jan. 12 to Nov. 13.

Lyon on a roll

Lyon had gone an amazing 73 matches without defeat prior to a 1-0 loss at Paris Saint-Germain last month. PSG was the last team to beat Lyon in any competition, 1-0 in the French Cup final in May 2018.

The streak was even longer — 80 matches — stretching back to December 2016 in French league play.

Buchanan played in all seven of Lyon’s Champions League matches in 2019-20. And she played every minute at centre back in August when Lyon dispatched Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals, Paris Saint-Germain in the semifinals, and VfL Wolfsburg in the championship game in San Sebastian, Spain.

Buchanan helped blunt Wolfsburg’s Ewa Pajor and Pernille Harder, the Bundesliga’s back-to-back scoring leaders, in a 3-1 win as Lyon completed a 2019-20 treble.

Buchanan was 14 when she made her debut in the Canadian youth program in 2010 and 17 when she made her senior debut in January 2013.

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Catriona Le May Doan, 2-time gold medallist, named Canada’s chef de mission for Beijing Olympics

Catriona Le May Doan sounds as if she’s ready to do battle.

The Canadian Olympic Committee announced Tuesday that Le May Doan has been appointed chef de mission for Team Canada at the upcoming 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.

“At times, the chef has to put on the armour and lead the team,” the two-time Olympic gold medallist in speed skating said from her Calgary home.

“The role is to lead and to defend and when our athletes shine the role of the chef is to step aside. It’s all about the athletes. Only an athlete knows the pressure of representing our country on the Olympic stage. I don’t know if you can put on the armour if you haven’t been an Olympic athlete.”

The pandemic and the uncertainty facing every athlete on the planet coupled with an increased social consciousness pervading the world of sport has caused universal upheaval on every field of play at all levels.

The Olympics, which were once counted on to provide a spectacular expression of humanity every two years, are now in question. They are facing major challenges to their relevance.

WATCH | Le May Doan familiar with Olympic pressure athletes face:

The two-time Olympic champion in speed skating joins Scott Russell to discuss why she’s ready for the responsibility of the role and the global importance of the next Olympic Winter Games. 6:43

That’s why the choice of chef de mission — the person who essentially becomes the face of the Canadian Olympic team at any given Games — is so important.

“These are intelligent and thoughtful people who are alive to the issues that are going on in the world,” said COC president Tricia Smith, who had a hand in selecting Le May Doan. “[Le May Doan] is alive to the unique role that all of sport and the Olympic Games can play in bringing the people connection to the forefront.

 “She’s someone who absolutely has earned credibility and respect of the athletes of the team and of all Canadians.”

Indeed, Le May Doan’s qualifications to lead are impeccable.

Paving way for others to follow

She’s competed at four Winter Games beginning in 1992 in Albertville, France with the last Olympic speed skating event contested on an outdoor oval.

In Lillehammer, Norway in 1994 she tasted bitter defeat when, as one of the favourites to win a medal in the 500-metre event, she fell and was eliminated.

“I dealt with the gut-wrenching feelings of failure for a very long time,” she said as she reflected on that experience.

Four years later at Nagano, Japan she claimed the gold medal in the sprint and added a bronze medal in the 1000m. Then having carried the Canadian flag into the opening ceremony at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, Le May Doan won gold again and became the first Canadian athlete, winter or summer, to successfully defend an individual Olympic title.

“It was at those Games that I would experience the most pressure I had ever faced in my life,” she recalled. “I was able to dig deeper emotionally and mentally than I even knew possible, and pave the way for others to follow.”

Following her retirement from the sport, Le May Doan became a broadcaster and then served as the lead mentor for the Canadian team at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. She is currently the president and CEO of Sport Calgary, a non-profit organization which delivers a bevy of sport and recreation to hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and ability in that community.

Her motivation for aspiring to the honourary and volunteer position as chef de mission is both altruistic and genuine.

“I want the athletes to experience the power of the Games as I did,” she said. “They will become the messengers who will take the ideal of hope and unity through sport back to all of our communities in Canada.”

Big shoes to fill

Le May Doan is the latest in an impressive line of Canadian champions to become chef de mission. Prior to 2008 and the Beijing Summer Games it was rare for an athlete to assume the position more frequently occupied by a sports administrator.

“We have a shared history with those currently competing and can truly understand what they need,” said Sylvie Bernier, the 1984 diving gold medallist who was Canada’s chef de mission the first time the Olympics were held in China a dozen years ago.

Mark Tewksbury, who won swimming gold at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, served as chef de mission 20 years later in London in 2012.

“The role is about leadership of our Olympic team,” Tewksbury said. “Canada is one of the few countries to have an athlete in this role. This is invaluable. Only an athlete who has been there can unite the team around them very quickly and use the chef de mission’s position as a competitive advantage.”

Catriona Le May Doan, centre, speaks beside former Olympic swimmer Mark Tewksbury, right, as current and past Canadian Olympic athletes encourage the city of Calgary to continue a 2026 Winter Olympic bid. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press)

Short track speed skater and 1992 Olympic champion Nathalie Lambert was the high-profile chef de mission at the home Games in Vancouver/Whistler in 2010 where Canada won a then-record 14 gold medals.

“In my opinion we always need someone with great communication skills and an extensive knowledge of performing on demand,” Lambert said.

For her part, Marnie McBean, the three-time rowing gold medallist, has been patiently leading Team Canada’s expectant and nervously optimistic athletes through the pandemic toward the Tokyo Olympics, which have been delayed until the summer of 2021.

“I’ve been determined to normalize the path … the emotions and the roller-coaster ride that come with the ambition to be the best at the Olympics,” McBean said.

“I need to be out of their way not in it.”

The chef de mission’s role has evolved into an inspirational one from a Canadian perspective. The chef is the example to follow. Le May Doan is well-aware of this reality in very strange times.

“With sport being taken away from us it’s more important than ever to show our communities, our country, and the world how sport can heal,” she said.

“Beijing will be an environment which is safe for our athletes. We’ll go representing Olympic values and Canadian Olympic values. If athletes want to have safe space to express what they believe, they’ll have safe space. The Olympics and the athletes wearing the Maple Leaf represent hope and will allow our youth to dream again.”

As it is with her immediate predecessors, Le May Doan believes the best recipe for success as Canadian chef de mission is an unwavering passion for the purpose of the entire Olympic movement.

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Tropical storm Eta forms, ties record for most named storms in single Atlantic season

Tropical storm Eta formed in the Caribbean late Saturday, tying the record for most named storms in a single Atlantic hurricane season.

The system reached maximum sustained winds of 65 km/h late Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory. It’s centred 435 kilometres southeast of Kingston, Jamaica.

Forecasters expect Eta to become a hurricane by Monday. The system is forecast to be near the northeastern coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras by Monday night. A hurricane watch was issued for parts of both countries. Eta was moving west at about 24 km/h.

Eta is the 28th named Atlantic storm this season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. However, this is the first time the Greek letter Eta is being used as a storm name; in 2005, after the season ended, meteorologists went back and determined there was a storm that should have gotten a name but didn’t.

Hurricane season still has a month to go, ending Nov. 30. And in 2005, Zeta formed in the end of December.

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Chechen teen killed by police named as suspect in teacher’s beheading in France

A suspect shot dead by police after the beheading of a history teacher near Paris was an 18-year-old Chechen refugee unknown to intelligence services who posted a grisly claim of responsibility on social media minutes after the attack, officials said Saturday.

France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office said authorities investigating the killing of Samuel Paty in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Friday arrested nine suspects, including the teen’s grandfather, parents and 17-year-old brother.

Paty, who was 47, had discussed caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad with his class, leading to threats, police officials said. Islam prohibits images of the Prophet, asserting that they lead to idolatry. The officials could not be named because they were not authorized to discuss ongoing investigations.

Muslims believe that any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous.

French anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said an investigation for murder with a suspected terrorist motive had been opened.

Ricard told reporters that the Moscow-born suspect, who had been granted a 10-year residency in France as a refugee in March, was armed with a knife and an airsoft gun, which fires plastic pellets.

People gathered at the site of the attack on Saturday. The 18-year-old suspect was shot to death by police on Friday, about 600 metres from where the teacher died. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

The teenager had approached pupils in the street and asked them to point out his victim, he said.

The prosecutor said a text claiming responsibility and a photograph of the victim were found on the suspect’s phone. He also confirmed that a Twitter account under the name Abdoulakh A belonged to the suspect. It posted a photo of the decapitated head minutes after the attack, along with the message, “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down.”

Headmaster received threatening phone calls

The post was removed swiftly by Twitter, which said it had suspended the account because it violated the company’s policy.

Ricard said the suspect had been seen at the school asking students about the teacher, and the headmaster had received several threatening phone calls.

The suspect’s half-sister joined the Islamic State group in Syria in 2014, Ricard said. He didn’t give her name, and it is not clear where she is now.

The attacker, of Chechen origin, had been living in the town of Évreux, northwest of Paris, and was not previously known to the intelligence services, Ricard told a news conference.

Flowers, a candle and a message are seen in front of the Bois d’Aulne college after the attack in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Saturday. The placard reads ‘I am teacher.’ The teacher who was killed had discussed caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad with his class, authorities said. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Mourners marched near the school in solidarity on Saturday, holding signs that read “I am a teacher.”

“We’ll pick ourselves up together, thanks to our spirit of solidarity,” said Laurent Brosse, mayor of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.

Parents of students laid flowers at the school gate. Some said their children were distraught.

“[My daughter] is in pieces, terrorized by the violence of such an act. How will I explain to her the unthinkable?” one father wrote on Twitter.

A police official said the suspect was shot dead about 600 metres from where Paty died. Police opened fire after he failed to respond to orders to put down his weapons and acted in a threatening manner. The official could not be named because of the ongoing investigations.

French President Emmanuel Macron went to the school on Friday night to denounce what he called an “Islamist terrorist attack.” He urged the nation to stand united against extremism.

WATCH | French president visits scene of knife attack:

President Emmanuel Macron was among a group of onlookers and police who gathered on a street outside Paris where police shot and killed a man who minutes earlier had killed a middle school teacher. 0:51

“One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught … the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe,” Macron said.

The presidential Élysée Palace announced that there will be a national ceremony at a future date to honour Paty.

Canada’s foreign affairs minister, François-Philippe Champagne, also condemned the attack on Twitter Saturday.

In a video posted recently on Twitter, a man describing himself as the father of a student asserted that Paty had shown an image of a naked man and told students it was “the prophet of the Muslims.”

Before showing the images, the teacher asked Muslim children to raise their hands and leave the room because he planned to show something shocking, the man said. “What was the message he wanted to send these children? What is this hate?” the man asked. The AP has not been able to independently confirm these claims.

Chechen refugees immigrated to France after war

Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim Russian republic in the North Caucasus. Two wars in the 1990s triggered a wave of emigration, with many Chechens heading for western Europe. France has offered asylum to many Chechens since the Russian military waged war against Islamist separatists in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s.

France has seen occasional violence involving its Chechen community in recent months, believed linked to local criminal activity and score-settling.

This is the second time in three weeks that terror has struck France linked to caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Last month, a young man from Pakistan was arrested after attacking two people with a meat cleaver outside the former offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The weekly was the target of a deadly newsroom attack in 2015 after it published cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad. It republished the same caricatures last month to underscore the right to freedom of information as a trial opened linked to that attack.

Friday’s terror attack came as Macron’s government works on a bill to address Islamic radicals, who authorities claim are creating a parallel society outside the values of the French Republic.

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