French Catholics on Sunday celebrated the All Saints’ religious festival under heavy security as police made two new arrests over a knife attack on a church in the southern city of Nice that was caused by an Islamist attacker.
Three people were killed in the knife force Thursday in the Notre-Dame basilica, which prosecutors say was carried out by a young Tunisian who recently arrived in Europe.
It was the latest attack in France described by the government as an act of “Islamist” terror in the wake of the republican cartoon of Mohammed by Charlie Hebdo weekly in September.
In Nice, three men were released from police custody on Sunday after authorities determined they were not linked to the suspected attacker, a source close to the investigation said.
Three men remain in custody, including a 29-year-old Tunisian who is suspected of migrating with the suspect from their home country to France.
Tensions did not prevent Catholics from going to church to celebrate the All Saints holiday in Nice, and authorities allowed an exception during the shutdown of the coronavirus.
“I was scared, I was scared to come,” Claudia, 49, said as she walked into the church, reassured by the presence of heavily armed soldiers.
“We need to show that we are not afraid and we are here,” she said, following several other worshipers into the church, where about 150 people attended an early evening mass in honor of the three victims.
‘Come to kill’
The suspect was shot by police several times Thursday and is currently in a serious condition at the hospital. Investigators have not been able to question him, and his exact motive is still unclear.
But Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said he had “clearly gone there (to Nice) to kill”.
“Otherwise, how can we explain why he armed himself with several knives that have just arrived? … He clearly did not come just to pick up his papers,” Darmanin told the newspaper Voix du Nord.
Investigators believe the man traveled to Europe via Italy’s Mediterranean island of Lampedusa on September 20.
The 21-year-old arrived at the Italian port of Bari on October 9, before arriving in Nice just two days before the attack.
The latest men detained, aged 25 and 63, were arrested on Saturday at the residence of the 29-year-old Tunisian who was arrested earlier in the day, a legal source told AFP.
The detained Tunisian is “suspected of interfering with” the suspected attacker during their trip to Europe, the source said close to the investigation to AFP, adding that he probably also arrived in France recently.
Lyon priest shot
France is at the forefront of Charlie Hebdo’s republishing of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in September, which was followed by an attack outside its former offices later that month, the beheading of a history teacher in October and the attack in Nice.
On Saturday, an assailant armed with a shotgun fired at a Greek Orthodox priest before fleeing the French city of Lyon.
Nikolaos Kakavelaki, 52, closed his church when he was attacked and is now in a serious condition.
A suspect was initially detained but was released Sunday after investigators found no evidence he was linked to the shooting.
Prosecutors say they keep all hypotheses open, but so far have not referred the case to anti-terrorism colleagues.
French President Emmanuel Macron promised after the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty – who showed his class a cartoon of the Prophet – that France would never relinquish the right to caricature.
This comment led to a storm of anger in the Muslim world with furious protests in several countries.
At Pakistan’s commercial hub in Karachi on Sunday, protesters outside the French consulate burned images of Macron and stepped on the French flag, an AFP photographer said.
Macron tried to quell the anger by saying in an interview with an Arab TV channel on Saturday that he could understand that Muslims could be shocked by the cartoons.
On Sunday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex slammed former “complacency” over the “ideological struggle” against radical Islamism.
“I want to condemn here all the compromises that have been made for too many years, the justification for radical Islamism: ‘We must mark ourselves, regret colonization,'” he told TF1-tv.
“The first way to win a war is for the nation to meet, to be united, to be proud of our origins, of our identity, of our republic, of our freedom. We must win this ideological battle,” he said.
“It’s over, no more complacency from intellectual, political parties, we must all be united on the basis of our values on the basis of our history.”
( Jowharwith AFP)