Macron decries Islamist terror attack after 3 killed in Nice
World leaders express support for France after knife-wielding assailant strikes in church.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday decried a deadly knife assault in a Nice church as an act of Islamist terrorism and ordered an increase in soldiers protecting places of worship.
“Our country suffered an Islamist terrorist attack,” Macron said near the Notre-Dame Basilica, where the assailant committed the attack earlier in the day, killing two women and a man and wounding several other people.
“It is very clearly France that is attacked — at the same time we had a French consular site attacked in Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah, at the same time arrests were being made on our territory.”
Shortly after the attack, the French embassy in Saudi Arabia said an assailant with a knife had attacked a security guard outside the French consulate in Jeddah.
Little is known at this stage about the Nice attacker, who was shot by police and taken to hospital. But conservative MP Eric Ciotti, who represents the Nice area in parliament, said he was “a Tunisian who recently arrived through [the Italian island of] Lampedusa.” He called for the suspension “of all asylum requests and visa deliveries for those coming from risky countries.”
Thursday’s attacks come two weeks after the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, who was killed near Paris by a man of Chechen origin days after he used cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class discussion about freedom of speech.
Several leaders of Muslim-majority countries, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, as well as Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, accused Macron and France of Islamophobia for its reaction to the killing of Paty.
Macron also attracted the ire of Erdoğan and others after a speech he gave at the beginning of October on fighting Islamist extremism in France, and again after he defended the freedom to publish cartoons that others consider to be offensive after Paty’s killing two weeks later.
In Nice, Macron announced that he was increasing the number of soldiers patrolling the streets and guarding places of worship and schools from 3,000 to 7,000.
“I want to first and foremost express the support of the entire nation to Catholics in France and elsewhere,” Macron said. “The whole nation stands by their side.”
The French Council of the Muslim Faith tweeted that it “forcefully condemns the terrorist attack” in Nice and called on Muslims to annul their celebrations as part of the festival of Mawlid as a sign of mourning. Mawlid, which falls on Thursday, marks the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Nice attack is not the first time Catholics in France have been targeted by radical Islamists. In 2016, two assailants beheaded Father Jacques Hamel, an 84-year-old priest, in his church in a suburb of Rouen in northern France.
Nice has been the target of terrorists before, with an attacker linked to the so-called Islamic State killing 86 people on Bastille Day in 2016 and another knife-attack against armed forces in 2015.
Leaders from across Europe and beyond expressed support for France following the latest attack.
“My thoughts go out to the victims of Nice’s abominable attack and to their loved ones. All of Europe is with you,” said European Council President Charles Michel in a tweet.
The Turkish government released a statement condemning the attack and offering condolences to the families of the victims.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, “Our hearts are with the people of France. America stands with our oldest Ally in this fight. These Radical Islamic terrorist attacks must stop immediately. No country, France or otherwise can long put up with it!”
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared, “The UK stands steadfastly with France against terror and intolerance.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel also expressed solidarity with France.
“I condemn the heinous and brutal attack that has just taken place in Nice and I wholeheartedly support France. My thoughts are with the victims of this heinous act,” tweeted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “The whole of Europe stands in solidarity with France. We remain united and determined in the face of barbarism and fanaticism.”
Major churches around France, including the Sacré Coeur in Paris and the Strasbourg Cathedral, rang their bells in unison at 3 p.m. in honor of the fallen victims.
Pope Francis said he was “close to the Catholic community of #Nice, mourning” and praying for the victims and their families, in a tweet Thursday afternoon.
Contrary to some early reports. a man shot by police in Avignon on Thursday after threatening people in the street with a handgun had no link to radical Islamism but had ties to the far right, according to multiple media outlets.