“The woman who was inside the church has been decapitated.”
At least three people have been killed in the French coastal city of Nice during a knife attack the local mayor described as a “terrorist” incident.
The attack took place in a church, the Notre Dame Basilica, on Thursday. The victims include one woman who was “decapitated” inside the church, Mayor Christian Estrosi said.
Estrosi said the attacker was shot by police, but is still alive and has been taken into custody.
“I am on the scene with the police who arrested the attacker. Everything points to a terrorist attack,” Estrosi said on Twitter Thursday morning.
“At this moment, we have, without any doubt, two dead inside the church, in a horrible way,” Estrosi said shortly afterwards during a press conference.
“It seems that, according to the first findings of the police, the woman who was inside the church has been decapitated. For the other victims, we cannot say anything at the moment,” Estrosi told French news channel BFMTV.
France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said he was chairing a crisis meeting at the ministry in response to the attack.
President Emmanuel Macron will travel to Nice after attending that meeting, the Elysee Palace said.
France’s anti-terror prosecutor has taken on the investigation into the attack, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office said.
“He cried ‘Allah Akbar!’ over and over, even after he was injured,” said Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi, who told BFM television that three people had died, two inside the church and a third who fled but was mortally wounded. “The meaning of his gesture left no doubt.”
In Nice, images on French media showed the neighborhood locked down and surrounded by police and emergency vehicles. Sounds of explosions could be heard as sappers exploded suspicious objects.
The lower house of parliament suspended a debate on France’s new virus restrictions and held a moment of silence Thursday for the victims. The prime minister rushed from the hall to a crisis center overseeing the aftermath of the Nice attack. French President Emmanuel Macron was headed to Nice later in the day.
Less than two weeks ago, an assailant decapitated a French middle school teacher who showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed for a class on free speech. Those caricatures were published by Charlie Hebdo and cited by the men who gunned down the newspaper’s editorial meeting in 2015.
In September, a man who had sought asylum in France attacked bystanders outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices with a butcher knife.
From Vatican News:
The president of the French Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims expressed his closeness to the victims of the attack in a tweet.
“…My very special prayers for the diocesan people of Nice and Bishop Marceau. May they know how to sustain themselves in this trial and support those who are tested in their flesh.”
Recalling the proximity of the solemnity of All Saints celebrated on 1 November, Archbishop Moulins-Beaufort added: “On Sunday, for All Saints, we will hear the Lord: Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who persecute you for my sake for your reward will be great in heaven.”
On his part, Bishop André Marceau of Nice expressed his sorrow on the tragic attack and the deaths of three people in a statement on Thursday.
“My sadness as a human being is infinite in the face of what other so-called human beings can do” he said.
Bishop Marceau noted that this latest attack comes a few weeks after Storm Alex and a few days after the murder of Samuel Paty.
He also announced that all churches in Nice are closed and placed under police protection till further notice.
“All my prayers go out to the victims, their loved ones, the police on the front line of this tragedy, priests and the faithful who have been wounded in their faith and hope,” Bishop Marceau added.
Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us.