Three French people were killed and several others were wounded inside the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Nice on Thursday morning in what President Emmanuel Macron labelled “an Islamist terrorist attack”.
There were a total of four knife attacks or attempted attacks against French targets on Thursday. A guard at the French consul in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was wounded by a knife-wielding Saudi. A man shouting “Allahu Akbar” was shot dead when he tried to attack police with a knife in Avignon. And an Afghan dressed in a djellaba robe and combat jacket and brandishing a knife was arrested near the train station in Lyon.
The fatalities in Nice were a woman aged around 70 who was a frequent worshipper. Her nearly decapitated body was found near the holy water stoup. The sacristan also had his throat slashed. He was about 50 years old, was married and had two children. The third fatality, a woman in her 40s, staggered out of the basilica and died in a nearby cafe.
Christian Estrosi, the mayor of Nice, said the two people found dead inside the basilica had been murdered “in the most horrible way, like the teacher”. He referred to Samuel Paty, the middle school history teacher who was beheaded northwest of Paris on October 16th.
The alleged assailant in Nice, a 21-year-old Tunisian migrant called Brahim A, was wounded by security forces and has been hospitalised. He repeatedly said “Allahu Akbar” after he was apprehended, reports said. He entered Europe via the Italian island of Lampedusa at the end of September.
‘Right to blasphemy’
These latest attacks occurred on the eve of the Feast of Mawlid, the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, and amid tension between France and much of the Muslim world over France’s assertion of the “right to blasphemy”.
The Nice attack marked the third time in a month that Muslim attackers armed with knives have wounded or killed people in France.
Fourteen people have been on trial in Paris since the beginning of September for allegedly helping the Islamist perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attacks that killed 17 people in Paris in January 2015. On September 25th, a Pakistani wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the satirical weekly’s former office. He said he was angered by Charlie Hebdo’s republication of cartoons mocking Muhammad.
Mr Paty was murdered by a Chechen migrant who objected to his having shown cartoons from Charlie Hebdo in a class about freedom of expression.
This is the third time since 2015 that Nice has been the scene of an Islamist extremist attack. A Tunisian immigrant drove a heavy lorry down the Promenade des Anglais after evening fireworks on Bastille Day 2016, killing 86 people.
President Emmanuel Macron flew to Nice in the hours following Thursday’s attack. His frequent use of the phrase “yet again” conveyed the horrible repetitiveness of atrocities committed by Muslim extremists in France. “Yet again . . . it is very clearly France that is attacked,” Mr Macron said, referring to the attacks in Jeddah and Avignon and the arrest in Lyon.
Mr Macon expressed “the support of the entire nation to Catholics in France” and recalled the murder of Father Jacques Hamel near Rouen in 2016. Father Hamel had his throat slashed while saying Mass.
“We will in no way give in,” Mr Macron said. He repeated that France is attacked “for our values, for our love of freedom”. He announced that he is increasing the number of soldiers in Operation Sentinel, which protects schools and places of worship, from 3,000 to 7,000.
The French president also renewed his call for national unity, which has been his constant theme regarding the coronavirus epidemic and the fight against Islamist extremism.