France has lifted its security alert status to the highest level after three people were killed and several injured during a knife attack in a Nice church, while a gunman was shot dead by police in a separate incident.
- The Nice attacker was believed to be acting alone, according to an unnamed police official
- The French anti-terrorist prosecutor’s department has been asked to investigate
- In a separate incident, police say a man threatening passers-by with a handgun has been shot dead near Avignon
A man armed with a knife attacked two women and a man at Nice’s Notre Dame Basilica on Thursday morning before he was shot by police and taken to hospital.
Within hours of the Nice attack, police killed a man who had threatened passers-by with a handgun in Montfavet, near the city of Avignon, 270 kilometres west of Nice.
In Saudi Arabia, local police said a man was arrested in the city of Jeddah after attacking and injuring a guard at the French consulate.
The French Embassy said the consulate was subject to an “attack by knife which targeted a guard”, adding the guard was taken to hospital and his life was not in danger.
It was not immediately clear whether the incidents in Montfavet and Jeddah were linked to the attack in Nice.
Nice’s mayor, Christian Estrosi, described the attack in his city as terrorism, and drew comparisons with the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty earlier this month in Paris.
Mr Estrosi said the attacker had repeatedly shouted the phrase “Allahu Akbar”, even after he had been detained by police.
One of the people killed inside the church was believed to be the church warden, Mr Estrosi said, adding that a woman had tried to escape from inside the church and had fled into a bar opposite the building.
“The suspected knife attacker was shot by police while being detained, he is on his way to hospital, he is alive,” he told reporters.
“Enough is enough.
Reuters journalists at the scene said police armed with automatic weapons had put up a security cordon around the church, which is on Nice’s Jean Medecin avenue, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare.
Ambulances and fire service vehicles were also at the scene.
The French anti-terrorist prosecutor’s department said it had been asked to investigate the incident, and Prime Minister Jean Castex said the nation’s security threat level had been raised to its highest level.
Victims killed ‘in a horrible way’
Police said three people were confirmed to have died in the Nice attack and several were injured.
A police source said a woman was decapitated, and French far-right politician Marine Le Pen also spoke of a decapitation having occurred in the attack.
Mr Estrosi said the victims had been killed in a “horrible way”.
The attack comes while France is still reeling from the October 16 beheading of Mr Paty by a man of Chechen origin.
The attacker had said he wanted to punish Mr Paty for showing students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics lesson.
It was not immediately clear if Thursday’s attack was connected to the cartoons, which Muslims consider to be blasphemous.
Since Mr Paty’s killing, French officials — backed by many ordinary citizens — have re-asserted the right to display the cartoons, and the images have been widely displayed at marches in solidarity with the killed teacher.
That has prompted an outpouring of anger in parts of the Muslim world, with some governments accusing French President Emmanual Macron of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda.
Solidarity from around France
Mr Macron is due to visit Nice, Mr Estrosi said, and in Paris the lower house of Parliament suspended a debate on new virus restrictions and held a moment of silence for the victims.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said the people of Nice could “count on the support of the city of Paris and of Parisians”.
A representative of the French Council for the Muslim Faith strongly condemned the attack.
“As a sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims and their loved ones, I call on all Muslims in France to cancel all the celebrations of the holiday of Mawlid.”
The holiday is the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, celebrated on Thursday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his country stood steadfast with France, while Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rattue told the French people they were “not alone” in the fight against extremism.