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Terror in Nice: At least three dead and several injured after stabbings in French church

Peter Allen, Jonathan Prynn
·5-min read
French members of the elite tactical police unit RAID enter to search the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice after a knife attack: AFP via Getty Images
French members of the elite tactical police unit RAID enter to search the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice after a knife attack: AFP via Getty Images

Three people were killed by a knifeman today in a horrific suspected terrorist attack in the French city of Nice.

At least one of the victims was reportedly decapitated in the bloodbath which took place inside the Notre Dame Basilica at around 9am. Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, said the attacker was heard to shout “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) before being shot by police and taken to hospital. He said in a tweet: “Everything suggests a terrorist attack.”

President Emmanuel Macron said he would travel to the Riviera resort today after chairing a crisis meeting with Prime Minister Jean Castex and interior minister Gérald Darmanin. The killings happened half a mile from the scene of a 2016 attack when 86 people were killed and more than 400 injured when a 19-tonne truck was deliberately driven into crowds on the promenade.

Today’s attacker was believed to have been acting alone and police were not searching for other assailants. According to police sources one of the victims was a 70-year-old woman who was “partially beheaded” inside the church. A man who was stabbed to death inside the building was said to be the sexton.

The third victim, a woman aged around 40, was stabbed in the basilica but escaped to a nearby bar where she died shortly afterwards from her wounds.

Police said the assailant was conscious after being shot, gave his name as Brahim and told them he had “acted alone”.

Officers armed with automatic weapons put up a security cordon around the church on Nice’s Jean Médecin Avenue, the main shopping street, after the attack. Ambulances and fire service vehicles were also at the scene.

Worshippers were inside the building at the time but a witness had managed to raise the alarm with a special protection system set up by the city.

France was already on a heightened alert after the beheading less than two weeks ago of teacher Samuel Paty, 47, by a Chechen-born Islamist after he showed cartoons from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to his students during a lesson on free speech.

Police officers at the scene in Nice (AFP via Getty Images)
Police officers at the scene in Nice (AFP via Getty Images)

Two of the dead in today’s attack were women and one a man, according to police sources. Mr Estrosi said one victim was “a guardian so appreciated by the parishioners”.

He told reporters that the attacker “kept shouting Allahu Akbar even after being medicated”.

Mr Estrosi added: “Enough is enough. 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.”

Interior minister Mr Darmanin appealed to people to avoid the area near the Basilica in the centre of the city. A minute’s silence was held in the National Assembly, where Mr Castex had just been giving details of new lockdown measures announced by President Macron last night.

It’s time now for France to exonerate itself from the laws of peace to definitively wipe out Islamo-fascism

Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice

He said: “Without question this is a very serious new challenge that is striking our country.”

It was the latest in a series of terrorist outrages in France recent years. In January 2015 a mass shooting at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris by two Islamist gunmen resulted in 17 deaths.

Then November of that year 130 people were killed in a series of co-ordinated attacks in Paris including a mass shooting at an Eagles of Death Metal concert in the Bataclan theatre.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex observes a minute's silence in tribute to the victims of a knife attack in Nice (AFP via Getty Images)
French Prime Minister Jean Castex observes a minute's silence in tribute to the victims of a knife attack in Nice (AFP via Getty Images)

In October 2019, a radicalised computer operative working at the Paris Prefecture in central Paris stabbed four of his colleagues to death. The attacker — who was shot dead — turned out to be a Muslim convert who kept al Qaeda and Islamic State literature and images on his computer.

Last month four people were wounded when a man attacked them with a butcher’s knife outside the former offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

Images on French media today showed the Nice neighbourhood locked down and surrounded by police and emergency vehicles. Sounds of explosions could be heard as bomb squad officers detonated suspicious objects.

Police confirmed that the anti-terror prosecutor has been appointed to carry out an immediate investigation into the attack. Two other attacks against French targets were reported this morning. In the southern city of Avignon a suspect with a knife reportedly shouting “Allahu Akbar” was shot and killed during an attack on police officers. Meanwhile, a man was arrested in Mecca for stabbing a guard at the French consulate. World and church leaders condemned today’s atrocity in Nice. France’s Catholic Church described it as “an unspeakable attack” and warned: “Christians must not become symbols to be slaughtered.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country stood steadfast with France following the "barbaric attack".

"I am appalled to hear the news from Nice this morning of a barbaric attack at the Notre-Dame Basilica," Mr Johnson said on Twitter in both English and French. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and the UK stands steadfastly with France against terror and intolerance."

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte condemned the “vile attack.” France’s Council for the Muslim Faith, CNFM, said it “forcefully condemns the terrorist attack that took place at the Notre-Dame Basilica in Nice.” CNFM president Mohammed Moussaoui tweeted: “As a sign of mourning and solidarity for the victims and their families, I call on all Muslims of France to cancel all festivities for Mawlid (celebrating the birth of the Prophet Mohammed).”

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