France church attack: Isis supporters 'slit elderly priest's throat' after taking hostages at Normandy church

Police said they had neutralised both attackers in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray

Lizzie Dearden
Tuesday 26 July 2016 10:24
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A priest has been killed at a Catholic church in northern France during a suspected terror attack by two Isis supporters.

The French interior ministry said the murdered man was among nuns and worshippers taken hostage on Tuesday morning, while a second victim was in a life-threatening condition. Another was lightly wounded and three others were freed unharmed.

Father Jacques Hamel, 86, who had served the local area for decades, reportedly had his throat slit during the attack in Normandy.

Dominique Lebrun, the Archbishop of Rouen, paid tribute to Fr Hamel’s service, calling for "prayer and brotherhood" in the face of terror.

But the diocese of Rouen's website said he was born in 1930 and ordained in 1958, serving as the assistant priest of the parish of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

Eulalie Garcia, who works in a nearby beauty parlour, told reporters Fr Hamel was well-known by locals.

“My family has lived here for 35 years and we have always known him,” she said. “He was someone who was treasured by the community. He was very discreet and didn't like to draw attention to himself.”

Ms Garcia said she was shocked by the murder of the priest, who lived opposite his church. “It can happen to anyone,” she added.

The two attackers stormed the church during a morning mass at around 10am local time (9am BST), taking the priest, two nuns and several members of the congregation hostage.

The crisis continued for around an hour before the armed men were shot dead by police when they emerged in a courtyard outside the church.

Police said officers"neutralised" both attackers an operation near Rouen, Normandy, on Tuesday morning and a terror investigation has been launched.

Speaking at the scene of the attack, interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the church was being searched for bombs and booby traps as forensic investigations continued.

President Francois Hollande and Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, met the three uninjured hostages and families of the victims after visiting the scene.

Mr Hollande said the two attackers pledged allegiance to Isis, while the terrorist group praised them as "soldiers of the Islamic State" in a statement via its propaganda agency.

Manuel Valls, France's Prime Minister, wrote on Twitter: “Horror in the face of the barbaric attack on a church in Seine-Maritime. All of France and all Catholics are wounded. We stand together.”

The Paris prosecutor said the incident was being investigated by the national counter-terrorism task force (SDAT) and the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) intelligence agency.

One person has so far been detained in connection with the investigation.

The Vatican condemned the “barbarous killing”, while the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, wrote on Twitter: “Evil attacks the weakest, denies truth and love, is defeated through Jesus Christ. Pray for France, for victims, for their communities.”

The incident came under a fortnight after the Nice attack, when 84 people were killed and more than 300 injured by an Isis supporter who drove a lorry into crowds celebrating Bastille Day.

France has been on high alert since the so-called Islamic State's bombings and shootings in Paris on 13 November last year.

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