PARIS: A knife-wielding attacker beheaded a woman and killed two other people at a church in the French city of Nice.
Nice’s mayor Christian Estrosi, who described the attack as terrorism, said the incident had happened in or near Notre Dame church, the largest in the city. Estrosi said the attacker had been detained by police, while French media said the suspect was in hospital.
One of the people killed inside the church was believed to be the church’s warden, Estrosi said, adding that a woman had tried to escape from inside the church and fled into a bar opposite the building.
“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. 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 armed with automatic weapons had put up a security cordon around the church located on Jean Medecin Avenue, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare. French President Emmanuel Macron is due to visit Nice. In Paris, lawmakers in the National Assembly observed a minute’s silence in solidarity with the victims.
Police said three people were confirmed to have died in the attack and several were injured. The French anti-terrorist prosecutor’s department said it had been asked to investigate. A police source told a news agency that a woman was decapitated.
A representative of the French Council for the Muslim Faith strongly 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 attack comes while France is still reeling from the beheading earlier this month of a teacher who showed the images to his students. French officials have re-asserted the right to display the cartoons and the images have been widely displayed at marches in solidarity with the killed teacher.
This has prompted an outpouring of anger in parts of the Muslim world, with some governments accusing Macron of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda. It was not immediately clear what the motive was for the Nice attack or if there was any connection to the blasphemous caricatures.
In a comment on recent beheadings in France, the Russian Kremlin said it was unacceptable to kill people, but also wrong to insult the feelings of religious believers.