A knife-wielding attacker shouting “Allahu Akbar” beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a suspected terrorist incident at a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday, police and officials said.
The attacker was confirmed by French police to have been a 21-year-old Tunisian national, who entered the country via Italy. However, further details regarding his identity remain unclear.
Within hours of the Nice attack, police killed a man who had threatened passersby with a handgun in Montfavet, near the southern French city of Avignon. He was also shouting “Allahu Akbar” (allah is greatest), according to radio station Europe 1.
Nice’s Mayor Christian Estrosi, who described the attack as terrorism, said on Twitter it had happened in or near the city’s Notre Dame church.
Estrosi said the attacker had repeatedly shouted the phrase “Allahu Akbar,” even after he had been detained by police.
One of the people killed inside the church was believed to be the church warden, Estrosi said, adding that a woman had tried to escape from inside the church and had fled into a bar opposite the building. “The suspected knife attacker was shot by police while being detained, he is on his way to hospital, he is alive,” Estrosi told reporters.
“Enough is enough,” Estrosi said. “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.”
Reuters journalists at the scene said police armed with automatic weapons had put up a security cordon around the church, which is on Nice’s Jean Medecin avenue, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare. Ambulances and fire service vehicles were also at the scene.
French President Emmanuel Macron is due to visit Nice, Estrosi said.
The president later said he would be stepping up the deployment of soldiers to protect key French sites, such as places of worship and schools.
In Paris, lawmakers in the National Assembly observed a minute’s silence in solidarity with the victims.
Police said three people were confirmed to have died in the attack and several were injured. The French anti-terrorist prosecutor’s department said it had been asked to investigate.
A police source said a woman was decapitated. French politician Marine Le Pen also spoke of a decapitation having occurred in the attack.
Estrosi said the victims had been killed in a “horrible way.”
“The methods match, without doubt, those used against the brave teacher in Conflans Sainte Honorine, Samuel Paty,” he said, referring to a French teacher beheaded earlier this month in an attack in a suburb of Paris.
French Assemblyman Meyer Habib reacted to the attack on Twitter, saying that, “even during a state of emergency in France because of the coronavirus, coward islamists are slaughtering and beheading women in a church in the French city of Nice, “they are corrupting France’s face. We’re at war!”