France on Thursday raised its terrorism alert to the highest level after three people were killed and several others wounded in a knife attack in the city of Nice.
The announcement was made mid-day by Prime Minister Jean Castex as he spoke in front of the National Assembly. He was to address both houses of Parliament as they voted on implementation of a new lockdown put in place last night in the wake of rising coronavirus cases.
The attack took place at the Church of Notre Dame de l’Assumption. Police have arrested the attacker, taking him to a hospital as he sustained gunshot wounds, according to local media.
The three victims include a woman, whose throat was cut inside the building; another woman, who was gravely injured and took refuge in a nearby cafe where she died from her injuries; and a 45-year-old man, the church warden who was fatally stabbed.
President Emmanuel Macron arrived at the scene this afternoon accompanied by Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin and Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti.
Macron paid tribute to the victims calling the incident “an Islamist terrorist attack”.
Separately on Thursday, French police shot dead a knife-wielding man who reportedly threatened officers and passers-by in the city of Avignon, according to daily Le Monde.
The officers asked the man to throw down his weapon and fired upon him when he failed to comply.
In yet another incident, a man with a knife allegedly attacked the security guard at the French Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, causing injuries.
These attacks come amid heightened anti-France sentiments among Muslim countries across the world over the republication of cartoons insulting Prophet Muhammad.
Earlier this month, a French teacher was beheaded after he showed the cartoons in his class triggering demonstrations across France defending his right to freedom of speech.
The National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation; any links to terrorism have yet to be determined.
If deemed necessary, the new emergency level authorizes the French government to close roads and subways, suspend education, and make regulations on cyber-attacks and drones.
The counter-terrorism action plan consists of three stages: “caution”, “risk of attack” and “emergency attack”.
Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi tweeted his thanks to law enforcement officials the president for their rapid response.
“Immense gratitude to all our police forces and to this crew of the Nice Police Department who neutralized the terrorist. President Emmanuel Macron wanted to congratulate them and thank them for their action.”
Prime Minister Castex also stood firm in defending France and its liberties.
“The Republic will not weaken, the Republic will not abdicate,” said Castex. “It is the freedoms of worship and conscience that are under attack.”
* Busra Nur Bilgic Cakmak contributed to this story from Ankara
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