Leaders from around the world have offered condolences and expressed their solidarity with the people of France after the nation suffered a second suspected Islamist extremist attack on its soil in a fortnight.
President Emmanuel Macron said France was “under attack” in the wake of the killings inside the Notre-Dame basilica in the coastal city of Nice on Thursday which left three worshippers dead, but he vowed the French people would “not give in to any terror” in fighting intolerance.
As the government raised the terror alert level to the maximum “emergency” level nationwide, and soldiers were deployed to guard schools and churches in France, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said he was appalled to hear of the “barbaric attack”.
“Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and the UK stands steadfastly with France against terror and intolerance.”
Pope Francis said he mourned the attack “that sowed death in a place of prayer and consolation”.
“I pray for the victims, for their families and for the beloved French people, that they may respond to evil with good.”
US president Donald Trump said: “America stands with our oldest ally in this fight.” Australian prime minister Scott Morrison also spoke out in support of France.
Condemnation also came from Middle East, Arab and Islamic leaders, who drew a clear distinction between their religion and violent acts that claimed to defend it. Turkey, which is embroiled in a row with France over publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have triggered a wave of attacks against French people, was among the first to respond to the attack.
“We strongly condemn the attack committed today inside the Notre-Dame church in Nice,” a Turkish foreign ministry statement said.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said it “stands as a government and people with ... France in combatting this hateful incident”. Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said “peace cannot be achieved with ugly provocation”.
Thursday’s alleged attacker, a 21-year-old Tunisian named as Brahim Aouissaoui, who entered Europe through Italy and travelled to Paris in early October, was shot by police and arrested inside the church.
Aouissaoui allegedly walked into the basilica just before 8:30am on Thursday carrying three knives and a copy of the Qur’an in a bag. The attack lasted 28 minutes and left two people dead and a third fatally injured.
The eldest victim was a 60-year-old woman who had been in the basilica praying since shortly after it opened that morning.
France’s anti-terrorist prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said she had her throat cut “to the point of being almost decapitated”.
Vincent Loqués, 55, also had his throat cut. His body was found inside the church.
Loqués was a devout Catholic and had been sexton at the basilica where he prepared the sacraments and altar for the mass for 10 years. His role was also to welcome visitors and worshippers to the basilica when it opened each morning.
The third victim was 44-year-old mother of three named in Brazilian media as Simone Barreto Silva, who was stabbed several times inside the basilica.
Severely injured, she managed to flee the church before collapsing in a nearby bar. She told those who were treating her: “Tell my children I love them” before dying at the scene.
Police described the scene as a “vision of horror”.
Officers who were first at the scene shot the killer several times after he reportedly refused to drop the knife, injuring him in the shoulder. By 9.10am the attacker had been “neutralised”. French officials praised the prompt police action in preventing further bloodshed.
The national anti-terrorist prosecutor has opened an investigation into “killings linked to a terrorist organisation”.
Aouissaoui reportedly entered France from Italy. Investigators have established he was registered at Lampedusa in Italy on 20 September and had been at the Italian Adriatic port of Bari on 9 October.
He was not carrying any identity papers apart from a document from the Italian Red Cross.
Ricard said the man was picked up by CCTV cameras at Nice station at 6.47am. “He changed his jacket and his shoes. He then walked 400m to Notre-Dame basilica. He entered at 8.29am,” the prosecutor said.
After worshippers fleeing the church raised the alarm, four municipal police officers entered the church at 8:57am.
The attacker advanced towards the officers in “a threatening manner, shouting Allahu Akbar, forcing them first to use an electric pulse pistol and then firing their service weapon several times,” the prosecutor said. Fourteen bullet casings were found on the ground.
Thursday’s attack came 13 days after an 18-year-old man beheaded Samuel Paty, 47, a history teacher, outside his high school north-east of Paris. The professor had shown pupils caricatures, including one of the prophet Muhammad published in the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, during a discussion on freedom of speech.
His comments sparked angry protests across the Muslim world and calls for a boycott of French goods.
Having flown to Nice following the attacks, and visiting the basilica, Macron was sombre but defiant in his response on Thursday.
“It is France that is under attack,” the president said. “Three of our compatriots died at the basilica in Nice today and at the same time a French consular site was attacked in Saudi Arabia.
“I want to express, first and foremost, the nation’s support for the Catholics of France and elsewhere… We are at their side in order that religion can be freely exercised in our country. People can believe or not believe, all religions can be practised, but today the nation is beside our Catholic compatriots.
“My second message is to … the people of Nice who have already suffered as a result of the Islamist terrorist folly. This is the third time terrorism has struck your city and you have the support and solidarity of the nation.
“If we have been attacked once again, it is because of our values, our taste for freedom; the freedom to believe freely and not give in to any terror. We will give in to nothing. Today we have increased our security to deal with the terrorist threat.”
Macron said the French military was being mobilised to protect all places of worship, particularly Catholic churches, for the religious holiday of All Saints Day on Sunday. The number of soldiers on the streets is to be raised from 3,000 to 7,000 and troops will be deployed outside schools for the return to class on Monday.
France’s security alert has been raised to its highest level, warning of an imminent attack, or in the immediate aftermath of an attack. The elevated alert allows authorities to increase controls, deploy more police and carry out more systematic searches at train stations and airports.