Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed Britain’s solidarity with France following the Islamic terrorist attack in France earlier on Thursday.
Three people were killed by an attacker at a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday morning. One elderly victim who had come to pray was “virtually beheaded,” the city’s mayor was quoted as saying.
The attacker shouted “Allahu akbar!” repeatedly as police apprehended him, the mayor told reporters, adding that “the meaning of his gesture left no doubt.”
Writing on Twitter in both English and French, Johnson said: “I am appalled to hear the news from Nice this morning of a barbaric attack at the Notre-Dame Basilica. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and the UK stands steadfastly with France against terror and intolerance.”
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also wrote on Twitter, “The UK stands in complete solidarity with our French friends against terrorism and all those who try to intimidate us through such despicable action.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Union’s executive arm, said the whole of Europe stands behind France, “determined in the face of barbarism and fanaticism.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “deeply shaken by the terrible murders in a church in Nice,” adding “The French nation has Germany’s solidarity in these difficult hours.”
Following the attack, French Prime Minister Jean Castex 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.
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 some Muslim countries, including France’s NATO ally Turkey.
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.
But Turkey on Thursday condemned the Nice attack. President Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin expressed his condolences on Twitter in Turkish and French, and said, “We will fight all kinds of terror and extremism with determination and in solidarity.”
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.