A knife-wielding attacker shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday. A defiant President Emmanuel Macron, declaring that France had been subject to an Islamist terrorist attack, said he would deploy thousands of more soldiers to protect important French sites, such as places of worship and schools.
Speaking from the scene, he said France had been attacked “over our values, for our taste for freedom, for the ability on our soil to have freedom of belief”. “And I say it with lots of clarity again today: we will not give any ground.”
Tunisian attacker: A police source told Reuters the assailant was believed by law enforcement to be a 21-year-old Tunisian national who had recently entered France from Italy. Tunisia`s anti-terrorism court prosecutor began a forensic investigation into “the suspicion that a Tunisian committed a terrorist operation abroad”, Mohsen Dali, spokesman for the specialised counter-militancy court, said in Tunis.
Samuel Paty: Nice`s mayor, Christian Estrosi, said the attack in his city had happened at Notre Dame church and was similar to the beheading earlier this month near Paris of teacher Samuel Paty, who had used cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics class. Thursday`s attacks, on the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, came at a time of growing Muslim anger at France`s defence of the right to publish the cartoons, and protesters have denounced France in street rallies in several Muslim-majority countries.
Another attack: Within hours of the Nice attack, French police killed a man who had threatened passersby with a handgun in Montfavet, near the southern city of Avignon. France`s Le Figaro newspaper quoted a prosecution source as saying the man was undergoing psychiatric treatment, and that they did not believe there was a terrorism motive.
Security alert raised: After the Nice attack, Prime Minister Jean Castex raised France`s security alert to its highest level. Estrosi said the Nice attacker had repeatedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” even being detained by police. At around 9 a.m. (0800 GMT), a man armed with a knife entered the church and slit the throat of the sexton, beheaded an elderly woman, and badly wounded a third woman, according to a police source.
The sexton and the elderly woman died on the spot, the third woman managed to make it out of the church into a nearby cafe, where she died, Estrosi told reporters. None of the victims has so far been named. “The suspected knife attacker was shot by police while being detained. He is on his way to the hospital, he is alive,” he said. “Enough is enough. It`s time now for France to exonerate itself from the laws of peace in order to definitively wipe out Islamo-fascism from our territory.”
Reuters journalists at the scene said police armed with automatic weapons had put up a security cordon around the church, which is on Nice`s Avenue Jean Medecin, the French Riviera city`s main shopping thoroughfare. Ambulances and fire service vehicles were also at the scene.
India on the attack: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday condemned the recent terrorist attacks in France and expressed heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the people of France. Taking to micro-blogging site Twitter, PM Modi also assured that India stands with France in its fight against terrorism. PM Modi tweeted, “I strongly condemn the recent terrorist attacks in France, including today’s heinous attack in Nice inside a church. Our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the people of France. India stands with France in the fight against terrorism.”
World leaders on the attack: US President Donald Trump voiced sympathy for the people of France after the attack. “America stands with our oldest Ally in this fight. These Radical Islamic terrorist attacks must stop immediately. No country, France or otherwise can long put up with it!” Trump said in a Twitter post.
Condemnations of the attack also came from Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, whose President Tayyip Erdogan earlier this week slammed Macron and France over displays of the Prophet Mohammad.
Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said Islam could not be used in the name of terrorism, adding: “We call on the French leadership to avoid further inflammatory rhetoric against Muslims and focus, instead, on finding the perpetrators of this and other acts of violence.”
Solidarity: In Paris, lawmakers in the National Assembly observed a minute`s silence. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said the people of Nice “can count on the support of the city of Paris and of Parisians”. A representative of the French Council for the Muslim Faith also condemned the attack. “As a sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims and their loved ones, I call on all Muslims in France to cancel all the celebrations of the holiday of Mawlid.” The holiday is the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, celebrated on Thursday.
The foreign ministry of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, said “extremist acts” such as that in Nice “contravene all religions, while stressing “the importance of avoiding all practices which generate hatred, violence and extremism”.
France is still reeling from the killing by a man of Chechen origin of schoolteacher Paty in a Paris suburb earlier this month. The assailant said he wanted to punish Paty for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad to his pupils.
France, with Europe`s largest Muslim community, has suffered a string of Islamist militant attacks in recent years, including bombings and shootings in 2015 in Paris that killed 130 people and a 2016 attack in Nice in which a militant drove a truck through a seafront crowd celebrating Bastille Day, killing 86.
Pope Francis: Pope Francis condemned as “savage” an attack in which three people were killed at a church in France on Thursday, and the Vatican said terrorism and violence were never acceptable. “Informed of the savage attack which was perpetrated this morning in a church in Nice, causing the death of several innocent people, His Holiness Pope Francis joins in prayer with the suffering of the families and shares their grief,” said a message sent in his name to the bishop of Nice.
It said the pope condemned “in the most energetic manner such violent acts of terror” and urged the French people to remain united. Earlier, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the attack “sowed death in a place of love and consolation,” a house of God. “It is a moment of pain in a time of confusion. Terrorism and violence can never be accepted,” Bruni said.
In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, state television reported that a Saudi man had been arrested in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after attacking and injuring a guard at the French consulate. The French Embassy said he was in the hospital after a knife assault though his life was not in danger.
with inputs from Reuters