A woman was beheaded and two others were killed by a knife-wielding “terrorist” who shouted “Allahu Akbar!” At a church in the French city of Nice, one of three attacks on the country on Thursday.
Mayor Christian Estrozi said on Twitter that the heinous attack took place in the Basilica of Notre Dame in the Mediterranean city and that police had detained the attacker.
Estrosi described the assailant as a “terrorist” who shouted “Allahu Akbar!” – Arabic for “God is great” – repeatedly as the police punched him.
“The significance of his gesture left no doubt,” the mayor said.
Two people were killed in the church, an elderly woman who was beheaded and a man whose throat was cut, the BBC reports.
An injured woman managed to escape to a nearby cafe, but later died of her wounds, a police source told AFP.
There was no liturgy at the time of the attack, but the church opened around 8 a.m. and “people come in to pray at any time,”
A video posted online captures the moment police leaked inside the church – less than half a mile from where another assailant plowed a truck into the Bastille Day crowd, killing 86 people, on July 14, 2016.
“The suspected assailant was shot dead by police while detained, he is on his way to hospital, he is alive,” the mayor told reporters on Thursday.
The attacker was believed to have acted alone and police were not looking for other suspects, a police officer said.
It later emerged that someone had managed to file an alarm with a special protection system set up by the city, the BBC reported.
Daniel Conil, 32, a waiter at the Grand Café de Lyon near the church, said it was just before 9 a.m. when “they were shot and everyone fled.”
A woman came straight from the church and said, “Run! Run!” Run! “Someone stabbed people,” he told AFP, and dozens of police and rescue vehicles quickly closed the area.
The horrific incident coincided with two other attacks on France.
A Saudi man has been arrested in Jeddah after he attacked a guard with a “sharp instrument” at the French consulate, state media reported. The Saudi press agency did not offer a motive for the attack.
“The attacker was captured by Saudi security forces immediately after the attack. The guard was taken to hospital and his life was not in danger, “the embassy said in a statement.
And in the south of France, police shot dead a man in Monfavet, near the city of Avignon, after he had previously threatened passers-by with a gun, police said. According to Europe 1 radio station, he shouted “Allahu Akbar!”
“Enough is enough,” Estrozi added, according to Agence France-Presse. “Now is the time for France to break free from the laws of peace in order to finally remove Islamic fascism from our territory.”
He said on Twitter: “Everything points to a terrorist attack.”
Estrozi said the victims were killed in a “terrible way”.
“The methods no doubt coincide with those used against the brave teacher at Conflans Sainte Honorine, Samuel Patti,” he said, referring to a teacher beheaded in a recent attack in Paris by Chechen Abdullah Anzorov, 18, as punishment for showing student caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he was chairing a crisis meeting in response to Thursday’s attack, CNN reported.
The anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office said it had launched an investigation into the attack.
France is on high alert for the January 15 terrorist attacks in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. The trial of suspected accomplices in the attack is under way in Paris.
It was not immediately clear what the motive was for the attack in Nice or whether it had anything to do with the cartoons, which Muslims consider blasphemous.
Thursday’s attack forced lawmakers to remain silent for a minute before Prime Minister Jean Castex and other ministers left for an emergency meeting with President Emmanuel Macron, who is expected to head to the city.
A wave of jihadist attacks, often by so-called “lone wolf” attackers, has killed more than 250 people in France since 2015.
The latest attack drew condemnation from France’s allies, with German Angela Merkel expressing solidarity with France and European Parliament President David Sasolli saying: “This pain is felt by all of us in Europe.
“We have a duty to stand together against violence and those who seek to incite and spread hatred,” he said on Twitter.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte condemned the “disgusting attack”, but vowed not to “shake the common front, defending the values of freedom and peace”.
Abdalla Zekri, director general of the French Council for Muslim Worship, said: “I can only strongly condemn this act of cowardice towards the innocent.”
He called on French Muslims to cancel celebrations to mark Mawlid or the Prophet’s birthday, which ends on Thursday, “in solidarity with the victims and their loved ones”.
With postal wires