3 dead in 'terrorist' knife attack in French church, second beheading in two weeks

Joshua Bote, USA TODAY
·3 min read

Three people were killed at a church in Nice, France, an attack that the city’s mayor says is an act of terrorism.

It is the third such incident in the nation in two months, taking place weeks after a French teacher was decapitated after showing caricatures of Islam’s prophet Muhammad in class.

Separate attacks took place in the same day near the southern French city of Avignon where a man was shot after threatening police, and in the Saudi city of Jiddah’s French embassy, where a guard was attacked.

On Wednesday, Islamic State extremists issued a video calling for renewed attacks on France. The recent attacks appear to be linked to an ongoing trial on the 2015 killings at Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper that published the controversial caricatures.

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Christian Estrosi, Nice’s mayor, stated that the church killings were a "terrorist" attack, adding: “The meaning of his gesture left no doubt.”

One victim, according to a report by the BBC, was said by the mayor to be “virtually beheaded,” while another was stabbed with his throat slit. The third victim, who was wounded inside the church, was able to flee the scene and run to a local cafe where she succumbed to her injuries.

French president Emmanuel Macron said he will increase soldiers' deployments from around 3,000 currently to 7,000 to guard schools and religious sites.

France’s prime minister Jean Castex said the country’s alert level has been elevated to “emergency” following the attack. The nation’s anti-terrorist prosecutor’s office has also launched an investigation into the killings.

At the same time, tourist attractions in France, including the Louvre, Disneyland Paris and the Musée d'Orsay are shutting down ahead of COVID-19 lockdowns imposed until December.

The attacker was wounded by police and detained, reported the BBC. Two police officials told the Associated Press that he acted independently, and that no other suspects are being sought after.

United Kingdom prime minister Boris Johnson wrote in a tweet that he was "appalled" to hear of the attacks, in messages written in both English and French. "Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and the UK stands steadfastly with France against terror and intolerance," he said. Leaders across Europe also expressed solidarity with France.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry, despite recent political tensions with France, strongly condemned the attack. “We stand in solidarity with the people of France against terror and violence,” the statement said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Macron of anti-Muslim sentiment and posed questions about his mental fitness following a Charlie Hebdo illustration of Erdogan.

This attack took place less than a half-mile from Notre Dame Church, where an attacker drove into a crowd during a Bastille Day celebration.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: French church knife attack beheading: Suspected terrorism, Hebdo link