France has been struck by two terror attacks as three people were killed – two of them beheaded – in an attack in Nice hours before another knifeman was shot dead by police in Avignon.
The first attack began around 9am at the Notre Dame basilica – the largest Roman Catholic church in Nice – where a knifeman stabbed multiple people inside the church before being shot and arrested by police.
Two hours later, police in the city of Avignon – 120 miles away – shot and killed another knifeman who reportedly threatened passersby while shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’, Europe1 reported.
The attacks come amid fury across the Islamic world at President Macron for defending satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed which had been shown to a class of schoolchildren by a teacher, who was later beheaded.
Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi revealed that two of the victims in the cathedral stabbing died inside the church – a woman and a male church warden, both of whom were also beheaded.
A second woman who had been stabbed in the neck managed to flee the cathedral and into a bar across the street where she died of her wounds, according to local reports.
Estrosi added that the attacker ‘kept shouting Allahu Akbar even after being medicated’, and that ‘the meaning of his gesture is not in doubt’.
‘Enough is enough,’ he 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.’
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.
He also called for churches around France to be given extra protection or closed as a precaution.
The attack happened less than half a mile from where another attacker plowed a truck into a Bastille Day crowd in 2016, killing dozens.
Police confirmed that the anti-terror prosecutor has been charged with carrying out the investigation on charges of murder and attempted murder.
Emmanuel Macron led an emergency cabinet meeting on the attack, before leaving for Nice, where he is expected to arrive shortly.
French politicians were taking part in a debate on the country’s new coronavirus restrictions when news of the attack reached them.
They observed a minute of silence before the debate broke up so an emergency security meeting could be held.
Images on French media showed the neighborhood locked down and surrounded by police and emergency vehicles. Sounds of explosions could be heard as sappers exploded suspicious objects.
The Catholic Church issued a statement, condemning the ‘unspeakable act’ and saying that ‘Christians must not become a symbol to be cut down.’
The French Council of Muslim Worship also issued a statement strongly condemning the attack.
‘As a sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims and their relatives, I call on the Muslims of France to cancel all the festivities of the Mawlid feast,’ which takes place on October 28 and 29.
The attack is just the latest to strike France, after history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in another attack north of Paris.
Paty was stabbed by an 18-year-old Chechen after he showed the cartoons to his students during a lesson on free speech.
Parents of pupils at the school had led a campaign against him, before the attack took place. Seven have been arrested.
Just a few weeks earlier, an 18-year-old Pakistani stabbed a wounded two people outside the old offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The man has admitted to police that he was targeting the magazine for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
It also comes amid mass protests in many Islamic countries against Emmanuel Macron, after the French President spoke up in defence of the cartoons.
Tweeting in Arabic, he wrote: ‘Nothing makes us hold back, ever. We respect all differences in the spirit of peace. We never accept hate speech and defend rational debate.
‘We will always stand by human dignity and universal values.’
His remarks have prompted demonstrations in Gaza, Turkey, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and boycotts of French products in Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and Palestinian territories.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has led outrage at Macron, suggesting that he is mentally ill and needs to have his health evaluated.
The Islamic world’s anger at France deepened on Wednesday as Turkey condemned a Charlie Hebdo cartoon showing its president Recep Tayyip Erdogan lifting a woman’s burka to look at her naked backside.
Erdogan called the cartoonists ‘scoundrels’ and accused the West of wanting to ‘relaunch the Crusades’ by attacking Islam after the image appeared on the front of this week’s magazine.
‘I don’t need to say anything to those scoundrels who insult my beloved prophet on such a scale,’ Erdogan said, calling it a ‘disgusting attack’.
Showing Erdogan in a T-shirt and underpants, the caricature has Erdogan saying ‘Ooh, the Prophet’ as he looks at the woman’s backside, and comes with the caption: ‘Erdogan – in private he’s very funny’.
A Charlie Hebdo cartoon showing the naked Prophet’s backside was the image which French school teacher Samuel Paty showed to his class in the lesson which led to his murder and beheading earlier this month.
French president Emmanuel Macron has staunchly defended free expression and the right to mock religion in the wake of the terror attack, but has become a target of anger in the Islamic world.
Turkey has vowed to take ‘legal, diplomatic actions’ in response to the cartoon while Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan called for an end to ‘attacks on Islam’, saying the West should be willing to treat blasphemy in the same way as Holocaust denial.
Meanwhile Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani also took aim at France today by warning that insulting the Prophet would encourage ‘violence and bloodshed’.