Three Killed, One Decapitated in Suspected Terror Attack in French Church

The attack comes while France is still reeling from the beheading earlier this month of French middle school teacher Samuel Paty in Paris by a man of Chechen origin

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French members of the elite tactical police unit RAID enter to search the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice after a knife attack in Nice, October 29, 2020.
French members of the elite tactical police unit RAID enter to search the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice after a knife attack in Nice, October 29, 2020. Credit: VALERY HACHE - AFP

A knife-wielding attacker shouting "Allahu Akbar" beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a suspected terrorist attack at a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday, police and officials said.

A defiant President Emmanuel Macron, declaring that France had been subject to an Islamist terrorist attack, said he would deploy more than double the current 3,000 soldiers stationed to protect important French sites, such as places of worship and schools.

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Nice's mayor, Christian Estrosi said on Twitter it had happened in or near the city's Notre Dame church and that police had detained the attacker.

Estrosi said the attacker had shouted the phrase "Allahu Akbar," or God is greatest, even after he had been detained.

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 opened an investigation into the suspected attacker, according to Mohsen Dali, an official in a specialised Tunisian court that counters militancy.

A security officer secures the area after a reported knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France, October 29, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Many world leaders and official representatives expressed their condolences, including all EU countries, as well as Russia, and the United States.

Pakistan and Iran, who had both condemned French President Macron for supporting the publication of caricatures of Prophet Mohammed last week, also expressed their outrage. 

Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, condemned what he called a "terrorist attack." 

"This escalating vicious cycle – hate speech, provocations & violence – must be replaced by reason & sanity," Zarif said on Twitter.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also joined in the chorus of condemnations. “All civilized peoples must stand in full solidarity with France against the scourge of terrorism,” he wrote in English on Twitter. “There can be no justification or equivocation. 

One of the people killed inside the church was believed to be the church warden, Estrosi said.

"The suspected knife attacker was shot by police while being detained, he is on his way to hospital, he is alive," Estrosi told reporters.

"Enough is enough," Estrosi said. "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."

Police said three people were confirmed to have died in the attack and several were injured. At least two of the victims had their throats cut.

"The methods match, without doubt, those used against the brave teacher in Conflans Sainte Honorine, Samuel Paty," he said, referring to a French teacher beheaded earlier this month in an attack in a suburb of Paris. 

A relative of the sacristan victim of a knife attack cries in front of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice in Nice, France, October 29, 2020. Credit: VALERY HACHE - AFP

The French anti-terrorist prosecutor's department said it had been asked to investigate the attack.

In a separate incident, French police shot dead a man that had claimed allegiance to an anti-immigrant group and had assaulted a merchant of North African descent. This followed early media reports that had wrongly said the man killed was associated with Islam.

The man in Avignon had a firearm, and was shot and killed by police after he refused to drop his weapon and a warning shot failed to stop him, according to a national police official. The official said the man claimed to belong to extreme-right group Generation Identity and had assaulted a local merchant.

Meanwhile in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a man was arrested after attacking and injuring a guard with a "sharp tool" at the French consulate after the attack in Nice on Thursday, Saudi state TV reported.

The French Embassy said the consulate was subject to an "attack by knife which targeted a guard", adding the guard was taken to hospital and his life was not in danger.

Devout Muslims pray for the victims of a knife attack inside a church in Nice, at the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica in the nearby city of Marseille, October 29,2020.Credit: CHRISTOPHE SIMON - AFP

"The French embassy strongly condemns this attack against a diplomatic outpost which nothing could justify," an embassy statement said.

The attack comes while France is still reeling from the beheading earlier this month of French middle school teacher Paty by a man of Chechen origin.

The attacker had said he wanted to punish Paty for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics lesson.

It was not immediately clear if Thursday's attack was connected to the cartoons, which Muslims consider to be blasphemous.

Since Paty's killing, French officials - backed by many ordinary citizens - have re-asserted the right to display the cartoons, and the images have been widely displayed at marches in solidarity with the killed teacher.

That has prompted an outpouring of anger in parts of the Muslim world, with some governments accusing French leader Emmanuel Macron of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda.

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