A knife-wielding attacker killed three people at a church in France’s Nice city on Thursday, AP reported, citing authorities. France Prime Minister Jean Castex raised the country’s security threat level to “emergency”, the maximum one.
The assailant was wounded and hospitalised following the attack at the Notre Dame Church. It took place less than a kilometer away from a site in 2016 where another attacker drove a 25-tonne truck into a crowd, killing at least 84 people.
Two unidentified police officials said the attacker was believed to be acting alone and they were not searching for other assailants. Another official said one of the victims, a woman, was beheaded, according to Reuters.
French anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office has started an investigation into the killings. Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi called the attack an “act of terrorism”. Estrosi said the attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar”, meaning God is the greatest, repeatedly. “The meaning of his gesture left no doubt,” he said.
“The methods match, without doubt, those used against the brave teacher in Conflans Sainte Honorine, Samuel Paty,” he said, referring to the killing of a French teacher less than two weeks ago.
The mayor said one of those killed was believed to be a Church warden, adding that another woman tried to escape from the church and fled into a bar opposite the building.
“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.”
The Lower House of the French Parliament suspended a debate on new coronavirus restrictions and held a moment of silence for the victims. Castex went to a crisis centre, overseeing the aftermath of the attack. French President Emmanuel Macron was also expected to visit the centre.
In a separate incident on Thursday, a man was shot dead after he threatened people with a weapon in southern France’s Avignon city. The incident occurred in Montfavet, a district of the city, the police said, according to The Independent.
Another man was arrested outside Saudi Arabia’s French consulate in Jeddah assaulting a guard with a “sharp tool”, reported Al Jazeera. The French embassy strongly condemned the attack on a diplomatic outpost. However, it is unclear whether the three attacks are linked.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly condemned the terrorist attacks in France, including the one in Church. “I strongly condemn the recent terrorist attacks in France, including today’s heinous attack in Nice inside a church,” Modi tweeted. “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.”
This is the third attack in the country since a trial began in the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack. Twelve people, including eight of the magazine, were killed on January 7, 2015, when brothers Said and Cherie Kouachi stormed Charlie Hebdo’s Paris headquarters over caricatures of Prophet Muhammad published by the magazine. It was, however, not clear if Thursday’s attack was connected to the caricatures.
On October 16, a history teacher, Samuel Paty, who showed caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in class was beheaded outside his school in a Paris suburb. These caricatures were earlier published by Charlie Hebdo. Muslims see any depiction of the Prophet as blasphemous.
France will prosecute seven people, including two teenagers, in relation to the beheading. The teacher had received threats over “a debate” about the caricatures around 10 days ago, the police said. A parent of one of his pupils had filed a complaint against the teacher.
French President Emmanuel Macron had called the incident an “Islamist attack”, urging citizens to stand up against extremism. Since Paty’s killing, the cartoons have been widely displayed at marches in solidarity with the teacher.
In September, a man who had sought asylum in France attacked bystanders outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices with a butcher knife.
On Wednesday, India deplored the “personal attacks in unacceptable language” by countries like Turkey and Pakistan on Macron for his firm stance against Islamism following the beheading of Paty. New Delhi said there was no justification for terrorism for any reason or under any circumstance.