Three dead in terrorist attack at French basilica

basilica de niza francia The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice in France. | Twitter @cestrosi

An attacker killed three people at a church in Nice, police in the French city said Thursday. 

The incident took place at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice Oct. 29 at around 9am local time, according to French media. 

Christian Estrosi, Nice's mayor, said that the perpetrator, who was armed with a knife, was shot and arrested by the municipal police.

He said in a video posted to Twitter that the attacker repeatedly shouted "Allahu Akbar" during and after the attack.

"It looks like for at least one of the victims, inside the church, it was the same method as for the poor professor of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine a few days ago, that is absolute horror," Estrosi said in the video, referencing the beheading of middle-school teacher Samuel Paty in Paris Oct. 16.

The French newspaper Le Figaro reported that one of the victims, an elderly woman, was found "nearly beheaded" inside the church. It said that a man, identified as the sacristan, was also found dead inside of the basilica. A third victim, a woman, is said to have taken refuge in a nearby cafe, where she died from stab wounds.

Estrosi wrote on Twitter: "I confirm that everything suggests a terrorist attack in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice."

Bishop André Marceau of Nice said that all churches in Nice had been closed and would remain under police protection until further notice. 

The Basilica of Notre-Dame, completed in 1868, is the largest church in Nice, but is not the city's cathedral.

Marceau said that his emotion was strong after learning of the "heinous terrorist act" at the basilica. He also noted that it occured not long after the beheading of Paty. 

"My sadness is infinite as a human being in the face of what other beings, called human, can do," he said in a statement.

"May Christ's spirit of forgiveness prevail in the face of these barbaric acts."

Cardinal Robert Sarah also responded to the news of the attack on the basilica.

He wrote on Twitter: "Islamism is a monstrous fanaticism which must be fought with force and determination ... Unfortunately, we Africans know this too well. The barbarians are always the enemies of peace. The West, today France, must understand this."

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of French Council of Muslim Faith, condemned the terrorist attack and asked French Muslims to cancel their festivities for Mawlid, the Oct. 29 celebration of the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, "as a sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims and their loved ones."

More in Europe

Other attacks took place in France Oct. 29. In Montfavet, near the southern French city of Avignon, a man waving a handgun made threats and was killed by the police two hours after the Nice attack. Radio station Europe 1 said the man was also shouting "Allahu Akbar."

Reuters also reported a knife attack on a guard at the French consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French bishops' conference, wrote on Twitter that he was praying for Catholics in Nice and for their bishop.

French president Emmanuel Macron visited Nice following the attack.

He told journalists: "I want to say here first and foremost the support of the whole nation for Catholics, from France and elsewhere. After the assassination of Fr. Hamel in August 2016, it is once again the Catholics who are attacked in our country."

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He underlined the point on Twitter, writing: "Catholics, you have the support of the entire nation. Our country is our values, that everyone can believe or not believe, that every religion can be practiced. Our determination is absolute. Actions will follow to protect all our citizens."

This report has been updated to include Emmanuel Macron's comments.

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