PARIS (AP) — France’s prime minister says the country is going on emergency alert after the killings of three people at the Notre Dame Basilica in the southern city of Nice.
A man armed with a knife attacked two women and a man at the church Thursday morning before he was shot by police. As he lay wounded, the Nice mayor said the attacker repeated “Allah Akbar!” over and over. French authorities have opened a terrorism investigation.
Prime Minister Jean Castex told French lawmakers that the country would raise its alert level to “emergency” in response to the attack, which comes during high tensions over the re-publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The caricatures have ignited Muslim anger around the world.
Castex’s announcement came hours before France was to go into a one-month coronavirus lockdown.
Thursday’s attack was the third since a terrorism trial opened in the January 2015 attacks against Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
PARIS (AP) — An attacker armed with a knife killed three people at a church Thursday in the Mediterranean city of Nice, French authorities said. It was the third attack in two months in France amid a growing furor over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that were re-published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Other confrontations and attacks were reported Thursday in the southern city of Avignon and in the Saudi city of Jiddah, but it was not immediately clear if they were linked to the attack in Nice.
Thursday’s assailant in Nice was wounded by police and hospitalized after the killings at the Notre Dame Basilica, less than a kilometer (half-mile) from the site in 2016 where another attacker plowed a truck into a Bastille Day crowd, killing dozens of people.
France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the Nice killings, which marked the third attack since the September opening of the trial of 14 people linked to the January 2015 killings at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket. The gunmen in the 2015 attacks claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group and al-Qaida.
Thursday’s attacker was believed to be acting alone and police are not searching for other assailants, said two police officials, who were not authorized to be publicly named.
“He cried ‘Allah Akbar!’ over and over, even after he was injured,” said Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi, who told BFM television that two women and a man had died, two inside the church and a third who fled to a nearby bar but was mortally wounded. “The meaning of his gesture left no doubt.”
French media showed the Nice neighborhood locked down and surrounded by police and emergency vehicles. Sounds of explosions could be heard as sappers exploded suspicious objects.
The lower house of parliament suspended a debate on France’s new virus restrictions and held a moment of silence Thursday for the victims. Prime Minister Jean Castex rushed from the hall to a crisis center overseeing the aftermath of the Nice attack. French President Emmanuel Macron was headed to Nice later in the day.
In the southern city of Avignon later in the morning, an armed man was shot to death by police after he refused to drop his weapon and a flash-ball shot failed to stop him, one police official said. And a Saudi state-run news agency said a man stabbed a guard at the French consulate in Jiddah, wounding the guard before he was arrested.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith condemned the Nice attack and called on French Muslims to refrain from festivities this week marking the birth of Muhammad “as a sign of mourning and in solidarity with the victims and their loved ones.”
Islamic State extremists issued a video on Wednesday renewing calls for attacks against France.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the attack in Nice.
We stand in solidarity with the people of France against terror and violence,” the statement said.
Relations between Turkey and France hit a new low after Turkey’s president on Saturday accused Macron of Islamophobia over the caricatures and questioned his mental health, prompting Paris to recall its ambassador to Turkey for consultations.
The attack came less than two weeks after another assailant decapitated a French middle school teacher who showed the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad for a class on free speech. Those caricatures were published by Charlie Hebdo and cited by the men who gunned down the newspaper’s editorial meeting in 2015.
In September, a man who had sought asylum in France attacked bystanders outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices with a butcher knife.