Three People Killed in Suspected Terror Attack at a French Church

The attack at the Basilica of Notre-Dame came two weeks after a teacher was beheaded after showing his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
Nice church attack Nice mayor Christian Estrosi
Photo: Christian Estrosi / Twitter

A knife-wielding attacker killed three people, beheading one of his victims, in a suspected terror attack at a church in the French city of Nice Thursday. The killings, the latest deadly attack in a wave of Islamist violence apparently linked to the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, prompted the government to its terror alert to the maximum level.

The attack in the Mediterranean city was swiftly followed by a string of other threats. Within hours, French police shot dead a man who had been threatening people with a gun in Montfavet, near Avignon, shouting “Allahu Akbar.”


Several hours later, an Afghan national armed with a long knife, who had been flagged to intelligence services, was arrested while attempting to board a tram in Lyon. Another knife-wielding man was detained near a church in Sartrouville, in the northwest suburbs of Paris, after allegedly leaving his house armed saying he wanted to replicate the Nice attack.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, authorities arrested a man who attacked a guard at the French consulate with a “sharp tool”, injuring him, state television reported.

“It’s very clear that it is France that is under attack,” President Emmanuel Macron said in Nice, speaking after bells in all of France’s churches tolled in honour of the victims.

“If we are attacked, it is because of our values, our values of freedom and our desires not to yield to terrorism.”

Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi wrote on Twitter that the suspected attacker had been detained by police following the incident at the Basilica of Notre-Dame in the city centre. He told reporters the suspect had been shot by police and taken to hospital, yelling "Allahu Akbar" even after being detained.

“He cried ‘Allah Akbar!’ over and over, even after he was injured,” he told France’s BFM TV. “The meaning of his gesture left no doubt.”

Estrosi said that two women and a man had died, two inside the church and a third who ran outside before succumbing to her injuries. One of the victims was reported to be a church warden.


He blamed violent Islamist ideology for the attack, which he said had targeted “the whole Christian world” and struck one of the country’s most symbolic basilicas.

“13 days after #SamuelPaty, our country can no longer be satisfied with the laws of peace to annihilate Islamo-fascism,” he tweeted of the attack, which took place less than a kilometre from the promenade where an Islamist terrorist drove a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in 2016, killing 86 people.

French prosecutors have opened a terrorism investigation into the attack, which prompted Prime Minister Jean Castex to announce that France would raise its terror alert level to “emergency” — the highest level.

Macron said that the number of soldiers deployed on the streets to guard against such attacks would double to 7,000, with protection ramped up at all places of worship.

The killings come amid an international firestorm over the republication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, considered blasphemous by Muslims, by the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The controversy has sparked protests and calls for a boycott of French products from Muslims around the world, as well as threats of violence from terror groups.

On Wednesday, ISIS extremists circulated a video calling for attacks on France in response to the cartoons controversy. 

The Nice attack was the third on French soil since the newspaper republished the cartoons last month, including the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty who had taught a lesson on the issue to his students. In an earlier attack last month, an asylum seeker stabbed two office workers outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices in Paris.

The brutal murder of Paty led to Macron vowing to crack down on Islamist elements in the country and never to retreat from core Republican values, including freedom of speech. 

The Nice killings have drawn widespread condemnation and messages of condolence, including from Britain, the Vatican, and Turkey, which has been calling for a boycott of French goods. The French Council of the Muslim Faith called on French Muslims to call off  festivities this week observing the birth of Muhammad in solidarity with the victims and their families.