French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that two men who attacked a church and slit the throat of a priest had “claimed to be from Daesh”, using the Arabic name for the Islamic State group.
Hollande, visiting the scene of the attack in the northern town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, earlier condemned the “vile terrorist attack” in a statement.
The attackers invaded the church Tuesday during morning Mass, killing an 84-year-old priest by slitting his throat and taking hostages before being shot and killed by police, officials said. Another person inside the church was seriously injured and is hovering between life and death, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.
Police managed to rescue three other people inside the church, Brandet told reporters, and the two attackers were killed outside the church.
The identities of the attackers and motive for the attack are unclear, according to a French security official who was not authorized to be publicly named.
Brandet said the RAID special intervention force was searching the perimeter of the church ahead of entering for possible explosives and terrorism investigators had been summoned.
“The investigations are ongoing. There are still unknowns,” Brandet said. “There are dogs, explosive detectors and bomb disposal services and as long as there are still unknowns, the judicial police cannot get inside the site. It’s a dramatic situation.”
It was the first known attack inside a French church in recent times. One was targeted last year, but the attack never was carried out. The anti-terrorism division of the Paris prosecutor’s office immediately opened an investigation.
Dominique Lebrun, the archbishop of Rouen, confirmed the death of 84-year-old Rev. Jacques Hamel.
“I cry out to God, with all men of good will. And I invite all non-believers to unite with this cry,” Lebrun wrote in a statement from Krakow, Poland, where Pope Francis was visiting. “The Catholic Church has no other arms besides prayer and fraternity between men.”
France is currently on high alert after an attack in Nice on Bastille Day – July 14 – that killed 84 people and a string of deadly attacks last year claimed by the Islamic State group that killed 147 others. France is also under a state of emergency and has extra police presence after the Nice attack, where man barreled his truck down the city’s famed Promenade des Anglais, mowing down holiday crowds.