Church attack in Nice: What we know so far

Police officers stand guard at the scene of a reported knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France, October 29, 2020. — Reuters pic
Police officers stand guard at the scene of a reported knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France, October 29, 2020. — Reuters pic

NICE, Oct 30 — A knife attacker killed three people, cutting the throat of at least one woman, inside a church in Nice on the French Riviera yesterday.

The brutal killings come only two weeks after a French teacher was decapitated outside his school north of Paris by an Islamist extremist, after the teacher showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on freedom of speech.

Here is what we know so far:

What happened?

At 8:29am French time (0729 GMT) a man with a knife began attacking people praying inside the Basilica of Notre-Dame in the heart of the Mediterranean city.  

The attacker had a copy of the Quran and three knives with him, France’s anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Picard told a news conference.

In a near half-hour frenzy in the Notre-Dame basilica in the centre of Nice, the assailant used a knife of 30 centimetres to cut the throat of a 60-year-old woman who died inside the church.

The body of a man, a 55-year-old church employee, was found nearby inside the basilica, his throat also slit.

Another woman, a 44-year-old who had fled the church to a nearby restaurant, died shortly afterwards from multiple knife wounds.

The killer was shot and wounded by police who arrived quickly at the scene.

Videos seen by AFP show he was hit at least six times in a side exit from the church.

Even as he was being arrested the man continued to shout “Allah Akbar” (God is greatest), before he was rushed to the city’s Pasteur hospital.

Who is the suspect?

The 21-year-old Tunisian suspect only arrived in France earlier this month after coming to Europe on a migrant boat via the Italian island of Lampedusa at the end of September, an official source told AFP.

The suspected knifeman called himself “Brahim” when he was arrested and later claimed to be Brahim Aouissaoui, the source added. 

Who are the victims?

The dead man was the church’s sacristan, a 45-year-old father of two girls, according to Canon Philippe Asso, the church’s most senior cleric.

The killer’s first victim was an elderly woman, who he tried to behead, and the other woman who died was a mother in her 40s.

Police said earlier that several others were injured but added that the death toll is not expected to rise.

Is it a terror attack?

The French authorities are treating it as a terror attack, with the anti-terrorist prosecutor immediately opening an inquiry into “murder and attempted murder linked to a terrorist enterprise.” President Emmanuel Macron called it an “Islamist terrorist attack”. — AFP

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