Islamic State claims Normandy church attack
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Islamic State claims Normandy church attack

Jihadist-run news outlet says ‘soldiers’ slit priest’s throat in response to calls to target citizens of anti-IS coalition states

French police officers and fire engine arrive at the scene of a hostage-taking at a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, northern France, on July 26, 2016 that left the priest dead.(AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU)
French police officers and fire engine arrive at the scene of a hostage-taking at a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, northern France, on July 26, 2016 that left the priest dead.(AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU)

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Tuesday afternoon for an attack in France earlier in the day, in which two attackers invaded a church and killed an 84-year-old priest before they were shot and killed by police.

The claim came in a statement published by the IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency.

It said the attack near the Normandy city of Rouen was carried out by “two soldiers of the Islamic State.”

It added the attack was in response to its calls to target countries of the US-led coalition fighting IS.

In response to the attack, French President Francois Hollande vowed to wage war against the jihadist group “by every means.”

French President Francois Hollande stands outside the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray's city hall following a hostage-taking at a church of the town on July 26, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU)
French President Francois Hollande stands outside the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray’s city hall following a hostage-taking at a church of the town on July 26, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU)

“We are confronted with a group, Daesh, which has declared war on us,” Hollande said, using an alternative name for IS.

“We have to wage war, by every means, (but through) upholding the law, which is because we are a democracy,” he said.

Hollande was speaking in a lightning visit to the northern French town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, just hours after the attack took place.

Two assailants entered the local church, slitting the throat of the priest and leaving another hostage with life-threatening injuries, before being killed by police as they left the building, police said. Five people were inside the church when it came under attack, interior ministry spokesman Pierre Henry Brandet said. Three of the hostages were freed unharmed.

The archbishop of the nearby city of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, named the murdered priest as 84-year-old Jacques Hamel.

84-year-old French priest Jacques Hamel was killed in an apparent Islamic State attack on his church in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, in Normandy on July 26, 2016 (Photo from Twitter)
84-year-old French priest Jacques Hamel was killed in an apparent Islamic State attack on his church in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, in Normandy on July 26, 2016 (Photo from Twitter)

Hollande said the assailants “claimed to be from Daesh” and branded the assault as a “vile terrorist attack.”

“The Catholic community has been hit, but it is all of the French public which is concerned,” he said.

He called for national unity in the face of terrorism, urging the French people to “create a solid bloc that no one can split.”

A local Muslim leader said one of the men who attacked the church was on French police radar and had traveled to Turkey.

Mohammed Karabila, president of the Regional Council of the Muslim Faith for Haute-Normandie and head of the local Muslim cultural center, told The Associated Press that “the person that did this odious act is known, and he has been followed by the police for at least a year and a half.”

He said the attacker “went to Turkey and security services were alerted after this.” He had no information about the second attacker. Karabila said he hoped that interfaith dialogue in his region would not be damaged.

France remains on high alert after Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ploughed a truck into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, killing 84 people and injuring over 300.

The July 14 massacre was the third major terror attack in France in little more than 18 months.

The string of bloody incidents has left the country jittery and stoked political finger-pointing, with conservative politicians accusing the ruling Socialists of being weak or incompetent on security.

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