France ‘At War Against Islamist Ideology’: Minister

October 30, 2020 Updated: October 30, 2020

France’s interior minister has said the country is engaged in a war against Islamist ideology and warned that more Islamic terrorist attacks are likely following Thursday’s knife attack at a church in Nice.

A 21-year-old Tunisian man, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” beheaded an elderly woman and killed two more people at the city’s Notre-Dame church on Thursday morning, according to the authorities.

“We are in a war against an enemy that is both inside and outside,” Minister Gerald Damarnin told RTL radio on Friday. “We need to understand that there have been and there will be other events such as these terrible attacks.”

Police block the access to the Notre-Dame de l'Assomption
Police block the access to the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption Basilica in Nice on Oct. 29, 2020. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

Investigators detained a second suspect, a 47-year-old man believed to have been in contact with the assailant the night before, said a judicial official on Friday.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday he would deploy thousands more soldiers to protect important French sites, such as places of worship and schools.

Speaking from the scene, he said France had been attacked “over our values, for our taste for freedom, for the ability on our soil to have freedom of belief.”

“And I say it with lots of clarity again today: we will not give any ground.”

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French President Emmanuel Macron, second left, and Nice mayor Christian Estrosi, third left, meet police officers after a knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, southern France, on Oct. 29, 2020. (Eric Gaillard/Pool via AP)

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

The motive of the attacker was 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.

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 man prays in the street outside the Notre Dame church after a knife attack took place in Nice, southern France, on Oct. 29, 2020. (Daniel Cole/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, angering many Muslims and triggering protests in multiple Muslim countries.

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

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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)

On Friday, as France mourned the victims of the Nice attack, tens of thousands of Muslims protested in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Palestinian territories against Macron’s stance on the Muhammad cartoons.

In Pakistan, police fired tear gas at demonstrators marching towards the French Embassy in Islamabad, with some protesters trying to break through police barricades.

In Bangladesh, tens of thousands marched through capital Dhaka, chanting “Boycott French products” and carrying banners calling Macron “the world’s biggest terrorist.”

Bangladesh France cartoon
Muslims hit the effigy depicting the French president Emmanuel Macron after Friday prayer as they take part in a protest calling for the boycott of French products and denouncing Macron for his comments over Prophet Muhammed’s caricatures, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Oct. 30, 2020. (Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters)

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 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 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.