3 Killed in Islamic Terror Attack at French Church

October 29, 2020 Updated: October 29, 2020

Three people were killed by an attacker at a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday, in an incident the city’s mayor described as terrorism.

Mayor Christian Estrosi said on Twitter the knife attack had happened at the city’s Notre Dame church, and two of the victims died inside the church.

One elderly victim who had come to pray was “virtually beheaded,” he was quoted as saying.

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A security officer secures the area after a reported knife attack near Notre Dame church in Nice, France, on Oct. 29, 2020. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

The attacker shouted “Allahu akbar!” repeatedly as police apprehended him, the mayor told reporters, adding that “the meaning of his gesture left no doubt.”

“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.”

Three people were confirmed to have died in the attack and several were injured, police said.

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

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Security forces guard the area after a knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France, on Oct. 29, 2020. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

Following the attack, Prime Minister Jean Castex raised France’s security alert to its highest level and said the government’s response would be firm and implacable.

Within hours of the Nice attack, police killed a man who had threatened passersby with a handgun in Montfavet, near the southern French city of Avignon. He was also shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), according to radio station Europe 1.

In Saudi Arabia on Thursday, state television reported that a Saudi man had been arrested in the city of Jeddah after attacking and injuring a guard at the French consulate.

The motives of the attackers were not immediately clear, but France was already on heightened security alert as Muslims in multiple Islamic countries expressed anger over the display and publication in France of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.

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French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech to present his strategy to fight Islamist separatism, in Les Mureaux, outside Paris, on Oct. 2, 2020. (Ludovic Marin/Pool via AP)

Earlier this week, France’s national police called for increased security at religious sites around the All Saint’s holiday this coming weekend.

On Tuesday, the areas around the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower in central Paris were briefly evacuated after a bag filled with ammunition was discovered.

The terrorist threat remains “very high,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Tuesday, “because we have a lot of enemies from within and outside the country.”

The French Foreign Ministry issued safety advice on Tuesday to French citizens currently in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Iraq, and Mauritania, urging them to exercise caution, stay away from protests, and avoid public gatherings.

The caricatures of Muhammad have been widely displayed at marches in solidarity with a French history teacher, who was murdered by an 18-year-old Islamic terrorist on Oct. 16.

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A child holds up a poster of Samuel Paty as people gather on Republique square in Lille, northern France, on Oct. 18, 2020. (Michel Spingler/AP Photo)

Samuel Paty was beheaded in broad daylight outside his school in a middle-class Paris suburb by a teenage Chechen refugee, who had sought to avenge his victim’s use of the caricatures in a class on freedom of expression. Police shot the attacker dead.

President Macron has vigorously defended the cartoons as protected under the right to free speech. At a memorial for the teacher last week, Macron said, “We won’t renounce the caricatures.” On Sunday, he wrote on Twitter in both Arabic and English, “We will not give in, ever.”

Macron’s stance has angered some Muslim countries. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Macron needed mental treatment and led calls for a boycott of French goods. France responded by recalling its ambassador to Turkey and warning its citizens in the country to take extra caution to avoid danger to their personal safety.

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Pakistanis burn a French national flag during a protest following French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments over the Muhammad caricatures, in Peshawar on Oct. 26, 2020. (Abdul Majeed/AFP via Getty Images)

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan also hit out at Macron for “attacking Islam,” and called on Facebook to ban “Islamophobic” content.

Meanwhile, Islamic terrorist groups ranging from the Taliban in Afghanistan to Hezbollah in Lebanon have condemned Macron’s defense of the Muhammad cartoons.

The publication or display of images of Muhammad, which Muslims see as blasphemy, has triggered several terrorist attacks in France.

After cartoons depicting Muhammad were published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, its editorial offices were attacked in 2015 by gunmen who killed 12 people.

Last month, as a trial of 14 alleged accomplices in the 2015 attack opened in Paris, the magazine republished the cartoons to underscore the right of freedom of expression.

On Sept. 25, a Pakistani man stabbed two people outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices in Paris.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.