In what appears to be the latest European terrorist attack which took place early on Tuesday morning, two men claiming allegiance to Islamic State killed a priest by slitting his throat and gravely injured another person during morning Mass at a church in a northern French town. Investigators are treating the assault as a terror attack, the Paris prosecutor’s office said in a statement. French President François Hollande said that the attackers had claimed allegiance to the extremist group.
Men wielding knives entered the church in the small town of Saint Etienne du Rouvray in Normandy and took five hostages, including the priest, who was found with his throat cut, police said. Another person was left “between life and death,” a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said.
As the WSJ reports, a spokesman for the French Bishops Conference identified the priest as Jacques Hamel, the parish’s auxiliary priest. Police surrounded the church and shot the two men as they exited the building, said a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi branded the attack in Normandy a “barbarous killing” that “unfortunately has been added to the series of violence in recent days that has upset us.”
Pope Francis “is informed and shares the pain and horror of this absurd violence,” Father Lombardi said. Mr. Hollande and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve were on their way to the town, government officials said.
he Normandy attack came 12 days after a 31-year-old Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel plowed his heavy goods truck into a crowd of revelers in the French Riviera city of Nice, killing 84 people. Islamic State claimed that attack.
"Horror. Everything is being done to trigger a war of religions," tweeted Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former conservative prime minister who now heads the Senate's foreign affairs committee.
It isn’t the first time a church has been targeted in France. In April of last year, French police detained Sid Ahmed Ghlam, an Algerian suspected of having links with Islamic State and receiving instructions to attack a church.
The French government has strengthened security services since attacks in January and November last year and handed police special powers to conduct raids and detain suspects in their homes under a state of emergency, but has been unable to stop terrorist attacks. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has warned that the country will have to live with the threat.
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According to Hollande, the two terrorists were claimed by ISIS.
- Two knifemen took several hostages during mass
- They killed the 84-year-old priest, Jacques Hamel, with unconfirmed reports saying his throat was cut; they were then shot dead by police
- Three churchgoers were also injured, one of them seriously
- President François Hollande is heading to scene; Counter terror judges have been called in to investigate
- Police searching church for explosives
Both attackers have been killed by police, an interior ministry spokesman confirmed to Reuters. The Paris anti-terrorist prosecutor is launching an investigation into the church attack and hostage-taking situation, the spokesman added
Nombreux tirs entendus sur places prise otage saint etienne du Rouvray pic.twitter.com/FsqAKAaj2C— frederic veille (@fredveille) July 26, 2016
According to France 24, the attackers were armed with guns, and opened fire at the police while shouting "Allah Akbar"
Subsequent reports suggest that one of the suspects tried to travel to Syria last year.
The killed priest has been identified as 84 year old Jacques Hamel.
One resident was walking to church as the horror broke out. He told French newspaper MetroNews: "I was going to go out and do my shopping when the police started shouting me to go straight home and barricade myself.
"There is a lot of agitation, the police are bulletproof vest and armed."
While the motives of the hostage taking are still unclear it comes at a time when France is on high alert after a spate of recent terror attacks.
Firefighters, along with SWAT and anti-terror units, came to the scene, and said that there were several people wounded in the attack, RTL France media outlet said.
The Vatican has condemned the "barbaric killing" of the priest in the attack, saying it was made even more heinous by the fact that it happened in a sacred place.
French President Francois Hollande is on his way to the site of the attack, according to an official statement from Elysee Palace. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve is also headed to the scene of the hostage-taking, the ministry said.