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Terror investigation launched as three killed in knife attack at Nice church

French members of the elite tactical police unit RAID enter to search the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice after a knife attack in Nice on October 29, 2020.
French members of the elite tactical police unit RAID enter to search the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice after a knife attack in Nice on October 29, 2020. AFP - VALERY HACHE

A man wielding a knife has killed at least three people in an attack at a church in the southern French city of Nice. The suspect was injured by police and detained after the attack.

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The attack took place around 9am Thursday morning at the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice.

Three deaths have been confirmed, one man and two women.

French anti-terror prosecutors have opened an inquiry into what the city's Mayor Christian Estrosi called an "Islamo-fascist attack."

"The attacker kept repeating 'Allahu Akbar' (God is Great) even while under medication" after he was injured during his arrest, Estrosi told journalists at the scene.

Two victims died at the Basilica of Notre-Dame, in the heart of the city on the Mediterranean coast, while a third person died of injuries after seeking refuge in a nearby bar, a police source told the French AFP news agency.

"The situation is now under control," according to a local police spokeswoman.

The attacker was arrested and taken to a nearby hospital after being injured during his arrest, a police official said. He was believed to be acting alone and police are not searching for other assailants, the official said.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin immediately called a crisis meeting in the wake of the attack. President Emmanuel Macron will attend the meeting. The French leader is expected in Nice later today.

The national anti-terrorist unit has been tasked with the investigation.

Tensions high in French Muslim community

The attack comes just days after thousands rallied across France in solidarity with a teacher beheaded for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The history teacher, Samuel Paty, was killed by an 18-year-old Chechen, Abdullakh Anzorov, who committed the gruesome crime outside Paty's school in a Paris suburb after the teacher was denounced by angry parents on social media.

Paty's murder prompted President Macron to promise a crackdown against Islamic extremism, including shutting down mosques and organisations accused of fomenting radicalism and violence.

Why do terrorists target France more than EU neighbours?
Why do terrorists target france more than EU neighbours?
Why do terrorists target france more than EU neighbours? © FRANCE 24

But the move has inflamed tensions, with many Muslims saying Macron is unfairly targeting France's estimated five to six million Muslims -- the largest community in Europe.

Protests against France have erupted in several Muslim countries, with some urging a boycott of French goods, and tensions have flared in particular between Macron and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Tragic precedents in southern city

Nice is, sadly, no stranger to terrorist crime.

On the French national day, 14 July 2016, while thousands gathered on the seafront promenade to watch a fireworks display, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel killed 86 people, injuring 458 others, when he drove a heavy vehicle into the crowd. He was killed by police.

In 2015, two French soldiers were injured in a knife attack by Moussa Coulibaly outside a Jewish community centre in Nice, just days after the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Kasher killings in Paris.

More to follow on this developing story

 

 

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