Two ISIS terrorists attacked a church in Normandy on Tuesday killing an 84-year-old Catholic priest and taking nuns and worshipers hostage.
Two knife wielding attacker stormed the Church of the Gambetta in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, south of Rouen during morning mass on Tuesday, slitting the throat of Father Jacques Hamel and taking others hostage.
The assailants shouted Islamic State slogans while carrying out their brutal act.
Another victim was seriously injured before police shot the attackers dead.
The Vatican condemned the attack as a “barbarous killing”.
The Daily Express reports:
The knifemen slit his throat after they entered the church by the back door shouting “Allah Akbar”, according to local media.
The victim was filmed as he was forced to kneel before the sadistic killers knifed him in the throat, one of the nuns has said.
A statement released by Islamic State this afternoon claimed two of its “soldiers” had carried out the attack.
The men were shot dead by police officers as they emerged from the church.
A number of shots were heard over a period of around 15 seconds as the incident came to an end.
Specialist police teams searched the church for explosives amid fears the area could have been left booby-trapped by the knifemen, while French prosecutors said they have detained one person in relation to the attack.
Security sources said one of the murderers was a convicted terrorist who was being monitored with an electronic tag and should have been living with his parents.
He was allowed out unsupervised between 8.30am and 12.30pm. The mass at Saint Etiennce’s church started at 9am.
The same source said the church was one of a number of Catholic places of worship on a hitlist, discovered on an ISIS suspect in April 2015 – raising serious questions about France’s intelligence agencies.
Speaking at the scene, President Hollande said the threat remains high in France from ISIS after meeting with the families of those held hostage.
Five people were held by the attackers during the siege, including the pastor, two nuns and several worshippers.
The alarm was first raised by a third nun who escaped from at the church, which is located on the outskirts of the city of Rouen.
One of the parishioners was also wounded in the attack and the French interior ministry said the number of injured could rise, with a second hostage “fighting for life”.
The priest was named locally as Father Jacques Hamel who was ordained in 1958 and had been the parish’s priest for 20 years.
Eulalie Garcia, who works near the church, said: “He was someone who was treasured by the community. He was very discreet and didn’t like to draw attention to himself.”
A spokesperson for the Vatican condemned the incident as a “barbarous killing”. The Pope has spoken of his “pain and horror” at the priest’s murder.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, urged people to “pray for France”.
He wrote on Twitter: “Evil attacks the weakest, denies truth & love, is defeated through Jesus Christ. Pray for France, for victims, for their communities.”
The motive of the attack is not yet known and there is no official confirmation that the attack was an act of Islamist terror.
However President Hollande’s explciit mention of ISIS suggests the French government is treating it as another ISIS attack.
He said: “We are facing a group Daesh that has declared war. We have to fight this war by all means necessary.
“What these terrorists want to do is to divide us. For all the Catholics in France I am thinking of them.
“We are facing yet another trial and the threat levels are extremely high and will remain extremely high.”
Police sources also said at least one of the two hostage-takers had a beard and one wore a traditional Muslim cap.
Counter-terrorism judges have been called in to investigate by the French authorities, suggesting they believe an Islamist link is highly likely.
Officers from the elite anti-terrorist Raid squad were also called in to assist local police.
Earlier reports suggested the two men shouted “Daesh” – the Arabic acronym for Islamic State – as they entered the church.
However that was later discredited as the term is a derogatory name for the group and is unlikely to be used by its supporters.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted in response to the attack: “I am horrified by the barbaric attack on the church in Seine-Maritime.
“All of France and her Catholic citizens have been wounded. We stand in solidarity.”
National Front leader Marine le Pen said: “More horror at Saint Etienne du Rouvray. The modus operandi obviously leads one to fear a new attack by Islamist terrorists.”
French newspaper Le Figaro reported that the church was suspected to have been on a list of Catholic places of worship in the area around Paris drawn up as possible targets by Sid Ahmed Ghlam, an Algerian student arrested last year on suspicion of murdering a mother-of-one during a botched attempt to attack a church in Villejuif.
Normandy is a deeply Catholic area of France, which has remained rigidly secular.
If the attack does prove to be an islamist terrorist attack, it would be the first time ISIS inspired assailants targeted a church.
France has been rocked by ISIS-inspired massacres in recent months and the country remains under a state of emergency.
The Normandy attack comes 12 days after a 31-year-old Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ploughed his heavy goods truck into a crowd of revellers in the French Riviera city of Nice, killing 84 people. Islamic State claimed that attack.
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