Two attackers affiliated with the Islamic State took hostages and slit the throat of an 86-year-old priest, Rev. Jacques Hamel, during mass at a Normandy church on Tuesday.
After the attack on the church in the French village of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray was carried out, police arrived and killed the attackers. A nun inside the church during the assault told French TV that the priest was forced on his knees and was killed when he tried to resist. The killing comes less than two weeks after the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice. After the Nice attacks, France’s state of emergency was extended. The attack on the church is the latest installment in the challenges for European security forces to protect citizens against Islamic-State violence.
The Islamic State’s Amaq news agency referred to the assailants as “soldiers,” but it is not certain yet if they had direct contact with the Islamic State. However, one of the attackers, Adel Kermiche, was on a watch list, requiring him to wear an electronic tag in order for security officials to monitor his movements and his whereabouts. The attacker tried to reach Syria twice to join the Islamic State, but was instead held and arrested.
A person held hostage by the attackers obtained severe injuries.
“They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar,” a nun, Sister Danielle, told BFM-TV.
Alexandre Joly, a villager, described the priest as “an attentive grandfather,” in the village, adding that, “He loved marrying young people. He saw a purpose in it, and he had so much wisdom to impart.”
According to Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, Pope Francis was shaken by pain and horror of the “absurd violence,” and that he condemned “every form of hatred.”
“We are particularly stricken because this horrible violence occurred in a church — a sacred place in which the love of God is proclaimed — with the barbaric killing of a priest,” Father Lombardi said.
French President François Hollande travelled to the church to pay his respects. He emphasized that France must develop a plan of action.
“We are faced with a group, Daesh, that has actually declared war, and we have to fight this war using all means possible.”