Hollande: Deadly church attack in France carried out in name of ISIS
(CNN) A deadly hostage-taking at a Catholic church in Normandy, in which a priest was killed and another person seriously wounded, was a terror attack committed in the name of ISIS, French President Francois Hollande has said.
Speaking to journalists in the northern French town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, where two men took five people hostage during morning Mass Tuesday, Hollande said the attack was a “cowardly assassination” carried out by “by two terrorists in the name of Daesh” — another name for ISIS.
An 86-year-old Catholic priest, the Rev. Jacques Hamel, was killed when two men stormed the church in the northern region of Normandy, Dominique Lebrun, the Archbishop of Rouen, said in a statement posted on the diocese website. The diocese had initially said Hamel was 84 but later confirmed to CNN that he was 86.
Jacques Hamel, the 86-year-old Catholic priest slain in an ISIS attack in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France
Besides the slain priest, two nuns and two churchgoers were taken hostage, CNN French affiliate BFMTV reported.
One of the hostages was seriously wounded, and is “between life and death,” French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told reporters.
The situation ended when the two attackers were shot dead by police, he said. “The two killers came out and they were neutralized,” he said.
Police and firemen arrive at the scene of the attack
The priest’s killing comes on the back of a string of violent attacks across Europe in recent days, some claimed by the Sunni terror group ISIS, most notably an attack in the French city of Nice less than two weeks ago that left 84 dead.
France has been under a state of emergency since the Paris terror attacks in November last year.
A French police source told CNN that one of the church attackers had tried to go to fight in Syria last year but had been stopped in Turkey by authorities there.
French President Francois Hollande meets police who responded to the attack in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray
He was then deported to France and sent to prison in May 2015 before he was released, placed under police surveillance and forced to wear an electronic monitoring tag.
French authorities have struggled to monitor thousands of domestic Islamic radicals on their radar. In response to the heightened terror threat, Hollande has vowed to double the number of officials charged with the task.
More than 10,000 people are on their “fiche S” list, used to flag radicalized individuals considered a threat to national security.
Speaking to reporters, Hollande said: “Daesh has declared war on us. We have to win that war.”
But he urged the public to remain unified in the face of the threat.
“All people feel affected so we must have cohesion … no one can divide us,” he said. “Terrorists will not give up on anything until we stop them.”
He expressed his sympathies to Catholics, and also met with special forces personnel who responded to the attack.
The Paris anti-terror prosecutor has taken over the investigation into the attack, France’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.