New Delhi October 29, 2020 UPDATED: October 29, 2020 16:30 IST
A knife-wielding attacker beheaded a woman and killed two others in a suspected terrorist attack at a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday, the police was quoted as saying by Reuters.
The gruesome beheading reportedly took place inside Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice.
Nice’s mayor, Christian Estrosi, who described the attack as terrorism, said on Twitter it had happened in or near the city’s Notre Dame church and that police had detained the attacker. Estrosi said the attacker had shouted the phrase “Allahu Akbar”, or God is greatest. One of the people killed inside the church was believed to be the churchwarden, Estrosi said.
The attacker kept shouting “Allahu Akbar” even after he had been detained, Estrosi said. “The suspected knife attacker was shot by police while being detained, he is on his way to the hospital, he is alive,” Estrosi told reporters.
“Enough is enough,” Estrosi said. “It’s time now for France to exonerate itself from the laws of peace in order to definitively wipe out Islamo-fascism from our territory.”
The accused was believed to be acting alone, a police official told Associated Press. The reason for the attack is unclear, she said.
A man entered the Roman Catholic church, the largest in Nice, at around 9 am when the mass was about to begin. He attacked and decapitated at least one woman and then attacked the churchwarden who rushed to stop him.
The police were also quick to reach the spot. The attacker was caught and taken to the hospital. Nice’s mayor said the man kept shouting Allahu Akbar even as he was arrested after a brief struggle. He is said to be injured.
There was no word on the identity of the attacker but he is said to be of South Asian or Arab origin.
‘Victims killed in a horrible way’
Police said three people were confirmed to have died in the attack and several were injured.
A police source said a woman was decapitated. French politician Marine Le Pen also spoke of a decapitation having occurred in the attack. Estrosi said the victims had been killed in a “horrible way”.
“The methods match, without doubt, those used against the brave teacher in Conflans Sainte Honorine, Samuel Paty,” he said, referring to a French teacher beheaded earlier this month in an attack in a suburb of Paris. Estrosi said a woman had tried to escape from inside the church and had fled into a bar opposite the building.
The French anti-terrorism prosecutor’s department said it had been asked to investigate the attack.
French President Emmanuel Macron is due to visit Nice, Estrosi said.
In Paris, lawmakers in the National Assembly observed a minute’s silence in solidarity with the victims.
Second attack in a month
The attack comes while France is still reeling from the beheading earlier this month of French middle school teacher Paty by a man of Chechen origin.
The attacker had said he wanted to punish Paty for showing pupils 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.