Knifeman kills three at French church, ratcheting up terror fears
A knife-wielding man killed three people at a church in the French city of Nice on Oct. 29, slitting the throat of at least one of them, in what officials are treating as the latest jihadist attack to rock the country.
The assailant "kept repeating 'Allahu Akbar' (God is Greater) even while under medication" after he was injured during his arrest, Nice's Mayor Christian Estrosi told journalists at the scene.
A man and a woman died at the Basilica of Notre-Dame, in the heart of the Mediterranean resort city, while a third person succumbed to injuries after seeking refuge in a nearby bar, a police source told AFP.
No mass was underway at the time of the attack, but the church opens around 8:00 am and "people come in to pray at all hours," Father Philippe Asso, who serves at the basilica, told AFP.
Daniel Conilh, a 32-year-old waiter at the Grand Cafe de Lyon, a block from the church, said it was shortly before 9:00 am when "shots were fired and everybody took off running."
"A woman came in straight from the church and said, 'Run, run, someone has been stabbing people'," he told AFP, and dozens of police and rescue vehicles quickly sealed off the neighbourhood.
French anti-terror prosecutors have opened an inquiry into the attack.
France has been on terror alert since the January 2015 massacre at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which marked the beginning of a wave of jihadist attacks that have killed more than 250 people.
Tensions have run especially high since the trial of suspected accomplices in that attack opened in September, an event the paper marked by republishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that infuriated millions of Muslims worldwide.
Just days later, an 18-year-old man from Pakistan seriously injured two people with a meat cleaver outside Charlie Hebdo's former offices in Paris.
Emmanuel Macron's office said the president would travel to Nice on Oct. 29, just days before French Catholics mark the All Saint's Day holiday on November 1.
In the city, painful memories remain fresh of the jihadist attack during the Bastille Day fireworks on July 14, 2016, when a man rammed his truck into a crowded promenade, killing 86 people.
Just a few days later, two teenagers murdered an 85-year-old priest as he conducted mass at his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in northern France, an attack later claimed by the Islamic State group.
Oct. 29's attack drew condemnation from France's allies, with Germany's Angela Merkel voicing solidarity with France and EU Parliament President David Sassoli saying: "This pain is felt by all of us in Europe.
"We have a duty to stand together against violence and those that seek to incite and spread hatred," he said on Twitter.
Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte condemned a "vile attack" but vowed it "will not shake the common front defending the values of freedom and peace."
Abdallah Zekri, director general of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM), said: "I can only denounce as strongly as possible this act of cowardice against the innocent."
Zekri called on French Muslims to cancel festivities to mark the Mawlid, or the Prophet's Birthday, which ends on Oct. 29, "in solidarity with the victims and their loved ones."
Estrosi, meanwhile, called for churches around the country to be given added security or to be closed as a precaution.