France has been the target of multiple attacks by the radical Islamist group. There seems to be no end to these attacks. Now, France has finally declared war against ISIS. Pray for them.
Francois Hollande says France is at war with ISIS after two Islamist knifemen butchered a French priest and left a nun fighting for her life before they were both shot dead by police in Normandy.
One of the men who stormed into the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen during mass was a local man, who was being monitored by electronic tag after being jailed for trying to join fanatics in Syria.
The 84-year-old priest, named as Jacques Hamel, had his throats cut while a nun is critically injured in hospital following the raid which saw five people held hostage by ISIS assailants shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’.
This afternoon it emerged that the murdered clergyman was deputising while the parish priest was on holiday. French authorities say they have arrested a third man in connection with the attack.
The two killers were ‘neutralised’ by marksmen as they emerged from the building, which is now being searched for explosives. French president Hollande said France is ‘at war’ with ISIS while the terror group has claimed responsibility for the killing.
It comes as it emerged that the building was one of a number of Catholic churches on a terrorist ‘hit list’ found on a suspected ISIS extremist last April.
There are also reports that one of the attackers was a local resident who was under electronic tag surveillance having been jailed in France for trying to travel to Syria in 2015. His bail terms allowed him to be unsupervised between 8.30am and 12.30pm – the attack happened between 9am and 11am.
ISIS has already claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement published by its Aamaq news agency. It said the killing was carried out by ‘two soldiers of the Islamic State.’ It added the killing was in response to its calls to target countries of the US-led coalition which is fighting ISIS.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said this afternoon that one person has been detained in the investigation but gave no details on the identity or location. The spokeswoman spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
French President Francois Hollande, visiting the scene of the attack, appealed for ‘unity’ in France, where political blame-trading has poisoned the aftermath of the Nice truck attack, the third major strike in the country in 18 months.
‘The threat remains very high,’ said Hollande. ‘We are confronted with a group, Daesh, which has declared war on us. We have to wage war by every means, (but through) upholding the law, which is because we are a democracy.’
Pope Francis has expressed his ‘pain and horror’ at the incident with a spokesman saying the Pontiff was appalled by the ‘barbaric killing’ because it happened in a sacred place.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: ‘Evil attacks the weakest, denies truth and love, is defeated through Jesus Christ. Pray for France, for victims, for their communities.’
The two men held the priest and congregation of four – which included two nuns – hostage for almost an hour before being shot as they emerged on to the courtyard of the church.
A nun later gave a chilling eye-witness account of her escape.
She was at the church when the terrorists stormed in, but managed to escape before the clergyman was murdered.
The woman, who wished to remain anonymous when talking to Le Figaro, said: ‘They came suddenly. They took space. They spoke Arabic. I saw a knife.
‘I left when they began to attack Father Jacques. I do not even know if they realised that I was leaving.’
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Paris had earlier said that the men had crept into the church via a back entrance during a morning service, soon after 9am. The two men seized the priest, two sisters from a local order, and two parishioners.
‘A third nun escaped and raised the alarm, and anti-terrorists officers were on the scene within minutes,’ said a source who lives locally. ‘It appears that the priest who was celebrating the service was attacked first, and had his throat cut.
‘The area around the church was sealed off, and then armed officers appeared with their weapons. I heard at least a dozen shots.’
The siege officially ended at around 11am, following the shooting of the two attackers.
This morning, security sources said one of the murderers was a convicted terrorist who was meant to be living with his parents with an electronic tag on his ankle.
The revelation – made to the French TV news channel I-Tele – will cause further outrage in a country devastated by constant security failings.
Two identities of the attackers are already known to the authorities. One, who lived close to the church, is said to have left for Syria in 2015 to try and join ISIS, but he was arrested in Turkey.
He was jailed for terrorist offences following a short trial in France, before being released on March 2 this year. Bail conditions included returning to live with his parents, wearing an electronic tag, and reporting to his local police station. Neither of the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray attackers have yet been named.
French security services have been regularly criticised for the way they allow known terrorists their freedom after being found guilty of crimes.
Units attending the scene this morning included the elite RAID, the anti-terrorist unit that was heavily involved in the Paris attacks last year, in which almost 150 people were murdered.
Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said police were searching the church and its perimeter for possible explosives and terrorism investigators had been summoned.
Anti-terrorist judges immediately opened an investigation in to today’s attack, as President Francois Hollande and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve attended the scene.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted that he was ‘horrified at the barbaric attack’ adding: ‘All France and all Catholics are bruised.’
Former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said he feared ‘everything is being done to trigger a war of religions.’
And at a press conference in Downing Street, Prime Minister Theresa May offered ‘my condolences to the French people following the sickening attack in Northern France this morning’, adding: ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected.’
‘We all face a terror threat. If you look at the national threat level here in the United Kingdom, it is at severe. That means that a terrorist attack is highly likely.