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Three dead as woman beheaded in France, gunman killed in second incident

A knife-wielding attacker shouting "Allahu Akbar" beheaded a woman and killed two other people at a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday, while a gunman was shot dead by police in a separate incident.

Reuters | Paris | Updated: 29-10-2020 20:38 IST | Created: 29-10-2020 20:06 IST
Three dead as woman beheaded in France, gunman killed in second incident
Representative image Image Credit: Wikipedia

A knife-wielding attacker shouting "Allahu Akbar" beheaded a woman and killed two other people at a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday, while a gunman was shot dead by police in a separate incident. Within hours of the Nice attack, police killed a man who had threatened passersby with a handgun in Montfavet, near the southern French city of Avignon. He was also shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest), according to radio station Europe 1.

In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, state television reported that a Saudi man had been arrested in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after attacking and injuring a guard at the French consulate there. The French Embassy said he was in hospital after a knife attack though his life was not in danger. Nice's mayor, Christian Estrosi, said the attack in his city had happened in or near Notre Dame church and was similar to the beheading earlier this month near Paris of teacher Samuel Paty, who had used cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics class.

Thursday's attacks, on the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, came at a time of growing Muslim anger at France's defence of the right to publish the cartoons, and protesters have denounced France in street rallies in several Muslim-majority countries. After the Nice attack, Prime Minister Jean Castex raised France's security alert to its highest level and said the government's response would be firm and implacable.

Estrosi said the Nice attacker had repeatedly shouted the phrase "Allahu Akbar" even being detained by police. At around 9 a.m., a man armed with a knife entered the church and slit the throat of the sexton, beheaded an elderly woman, and badly wounded a third woman, according to a police source.

The sexton and the elderly woman died on the spot, the third woman managed to make it out of the church into a nearby cafe, where she died, Estrosi told reporters. None of the victims has so far been named. ​ "The suspected knife attacker was shot by police while being detained. He is on his way to hospital, he is alive," Estrosi told reporters. "Enough is enough," he added. "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."

President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Nice and was due to speak shortly, officials said. 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 French Riviera city's main shopping thoroughfare. Ambulances and fire service vehicles were also at the scene.

Condemnations of the attack came from Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, whose President Tayyip Erdogan earlier this week slammed Macron and France over displays of the Prophet Mohammad. Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said Islam could not be used in the name of terrorism, adding: "We call on the French leadership to avoid further inflammatory rhetoric against Muslims and focus, instead, on finding the perpetrators of this and other acts of violence."

SOLIDARITY In Paris, lawmakers in the National Assembly observed a minute's silence. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said the people of Nice "can count on the support of the city of Paris and of Parisians".

Police said three people were confirmed to have died in the attack and several were injured. The French anti-terrorist prosecutor's department said it had been asked to investigate. 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.

The foreign ministry of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, said "extremist acts" such as that in Nice "contravene all religions, while stressing "the importance of avoiding all practices which generate hatred, violence and extremism". France is still reeling from the killing by a man of Chechen origin of schoolteacher Paty in a Paris suburb earlier this month. The assailant said he wanted to punish Paty for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad to his pupils.

It was not immediately clear if Thursday's attack was connected to the cartoons, which Muslims consider blasphemous. France, with Europe's largest Muslim community, has suffered a string of Islamist militant attacks in recent years, including bombings and shootings in 2015 in Paris that killed 130 people and a 2016 attack in Nice in which a militant drove a truck through a seafront crowd celebrating Bastille Day, killing 86.


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