PARIS, France (AFP) — Muslim and Christian groups will hold vigils for a French priest murdered by jihadists Saturday, as authorities charged a man in connection with the brutal church attack that rocked the nation.
A shellshocked France is still coming to terms with the jihadist murder of a priest at his altar that has sparked fears of tensions between religions in the secular nation.
In a bid to forge togetherness between the communities, a regional Muslim council has planned a “brotherhood march” in the southeastern city of Lyon.
A church in Bordeaux said it would hold a non-denominational vigil for the 85-year-old Jacques Hamel, who had his throat slit by IS-inspired teenaged attackers.
And prayers were also planned at the Saint-Etienne church where the killing took place as Hamel was celebrating mass on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, police were still trying to piece together links to the two 19-year-olds who carried out the attack, Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean — both of whom were on intelligence services’ radar and had tried to go to Syria.
On Friday, authorities filed charges against a 19-year-old man accused of “criminal conspiracy with terrorists” after police discovered a mobile phone video of one of the assailants at his home.
Police were still questioning Petitjean’s cousin and a Syrian refugee, after a photocopy of his passport was found at Kermiche’s house.
A 16-year-old was released but could ultimately face a separate investigation for possessing jihadist propaganda, authorities added.
A source close to the inquiry said that a 17-year-old, who had tried to travel to Syria with Kermiche, was arrested in Geneva and sent back to France just a few days before the attack.
However, “nothing suggests he was in any way implicated in the attack” at this stage, the source added.
Both Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve have come under fire for perceived security failings.
Valls has said he would consider a temporary ban on foreign financing of mosques, urging a “new model” for relations with Islam after a spate of jihadist attacks.
France has just over 2,000 mosques, for one of Europe’s largest Muslim populations of around five million.
Some large mosques have been financed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf or northern African countries, according to local media reports.
After meeting with President Francois Hollande earlier this week, the rector of the Paris Mosque Dalil Boubakeur himself suggested “certain reforms of the institutions” of Islam.
‘Peace, it’s what we want’
Since the assault, harrowing details have emerged about what happened in the church as well as a chilling warning from one of the attackers.
On Friday, L’Express magazine revealed that Kermiche had described the modus operandi of the attack on the encrypted messaging app Telegram.
“You take a knife, you go into a church. Bam!” says the message recorded just a few days before the attack.
Meanwhile, two elderly nuns who were in the church at the time of the attack told AFP the assailants “smiled” and spoke of the Koran.
Sister Helena said when asked if she was familiar with Islam’s holy book, she said she had read several suras especially those about peace.
According to the nun, one of the attackers replied: “Peace, it’s what we want… as long as there are bombs on Syria, we will continue our attacks. And they will happen every day. When you stop, we will stop.”