France has been placed on high alert following a knife attack at a church in Nice, which left three people dead. The suspect was shot by police at the scene and was later taken to hospital, where he remains in a critical condition.
This is what we know so far about the attack:
According to prosecutors, the suspect took the train to the southwestern French city of Nice on Thursday morning and changed his clothes at the Nice-Ville railway station.
The suspect then walked half a kilometre to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice, entering the church at 8:29 am local time.
Inside the church, the suspect partially beheaded a 60-year-old woman and cut the throat of a man aged 55.
A third victim, a 44-year-old woman, was seen fleeing the church after being stabbed multiple times, but she died shortly afterwards.
Police soon arrived on the scene. They tasered the suspect and fired gun shots before detaining the man and taking him to the hospital.
Who were the victims?
The first victim to be named was Vincent Loquès. A father of two and a sacristan at the Basilica, at the time of the attack he was welcoming visitors and helping in the church’s preparations for All Saint’s Day.
Parishioners spoke to Nice-Matin of the 55-year-old’s great devotion to the church. “He helped, he served, he gave,” they said.
A second victim has been named as Simone Barreto Silva. After being stabbed three times in the church, the mother of three managed to escape to a nearby restaurant, where she later died. Her final words to those treating her were: “Tell my children I love them.”
Silva, a trained chef, was originally from Brazil but had lived in France for 30 years and had French citizenship. In a statement, the Brazilian foreign office said: “The Brazilian government regretfully announces that one of the fatalities was a 44-year-old Brazilian mother of three children, living in France.”
The third victim remains unnamed. The 60-year-old woman was praying at the church when the attack happened. Prosecutors said the woman had suffered “a cutting of the throat tantamount to a decapitation.”
Several others were also reportedly injured but police said that none of them were in a critical condition.
Who is the suspect?
The suspect is a 21-year-old Tunisian man called Brahim Aouissaoui.
He arrived on a migrant boat to the island of Lampedusa, Italy, on September 20. After being placed under coronavirus quarantine Brahmin reached the Italian city of Bari on October 9, and shortly afterwards made his way to France.
The man was not known as a terrorist threat by the security services of either France or Tunisia.
In the suspect’s possession were found three knives, two phones, a document issued by the Italian Red Cross and a copy of the Quran.
What was the motive?
The French authorities are treating the knife attack as a terrorist incident and President Emmanuel Macron had labelled it an “Islamist terrorist attack”.
When police arrived at the church, Brahmin was reportedly heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the greatest).
The attack follows the recent beheading of a school teacher just north of Paris two weeks ago. The teacher, Samuel Paty, was known to have shown cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to his students in discussions of free speech.
President Macron vowed to crack down on Islamic extremism after the attack and said that France “will not give up cartoons”.
Protests soon broke out in many Muslim countries over Macron’s remarks and there were calls to boycott French products.
Was it an isolated attack?
On Thursday, two other attacks were reported in France and a further attack took place outside a French consulate in Saudi Arabia.
In the south-eastern French city of Avignon, police killed a man who was threatening locals with a handgun.
Meanwhile, in Lyon, French intelligence services detained an Afghan man seen carrying a 30cm knife as he tried to board a tram in the city.
Then, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a man attacked a guard with a knife outside the city’s French consulate. The Saudi man was arrested, whilst the guard was taken to hospital, where he remains in a stable condition.
What was the reaction?
France went on the highest level of security alert and President Macron announced that 4,000 more troops will provide security for the country’s churches.
“If we are attacked once again it is for the values which are ours: freedom, for the possibility on our soil to believe freely and not to give in to any spirit of terror,” the president said.
A representative for the Muslim Council of France condemned the violence. “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,” they said.
The Vatican issued a message to the bishop of Nice expressing Pope Francis’s solidarity with those in mourning: “Informed of the savage attack which was perpetrated this morning in a church in Nice, causing the death of several innocent people, His Holiness Pope Francis joins in prayer with the suffering of the families and shares their grief,” it read.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter that he was “appalled” by news of the attack: “Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and the UK stands steadfastly with France against terror and intolerance.”