Knifeman kills 3 in French church ‘terror attack’

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A relative of a victim of a knife attack cries in front of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice in Nice on Thursday. (AFP)
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French forensics officers operate outside the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice after a knife attack in Nice on Thursday. (AFP)
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French members of the elite tactical police unit RAID enter to search the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice as forensics officers wait outside after a knife attack in Nice on October 29, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 October 2020

Knifeman kills 3 in French church ‘terror attack’

  • Two victims died at the Basilica of Notre-Dame while a third person died of injuries
  • Macron called for churches around the country to be given added security

NICE: A man wielding a knife killed three people at a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday, slitting the throat of a woman in what President Emmanuel Macron called an “Islamist terrorist attack.”
The assailant, who was shot and wounded by police, was identified as Brahim Aouissaoui, a 21-year-old Tunisian migrant who arrived in Italy late last month and then traveled to France, sources close to the inquiry said.
“He kept repeating ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is Greatest) even while under medication” as he was taken to hospital, Nice’s Mayor Christian Estrosi told journalists at the scene.
The man attacked worshippers inside the Basilica of Notre-Dame in the heart of the Mediterranean resort city, slitting the throat of an elderly woman in an apparent beheading attempt.
The body of a man, a church employee of about 45, was also found in the church, while another woman — a mother in her forties — succumbed to her injuries after seeking refuge in a nearby bar.

Video footage shows police entering the church in Nice where the attack is thought to have been carried out. (Twitter)

Churches across France sounded death knells, the traditional bell toll to mark a death, at 3:00 pm.
The killings, which occurred ahead of the Catholic holy day of All Saints Day on Sunday, prompted the government to raise the terror alert level to the maximum “emergency” level nationwide.
Macron, who quickly traveled to Nice, announced increased surveillance of churches by France’s Sentinelle military patrols, to be bolstered to 7,000 troops from 3,000.
Security at schools would also be boosted, he said.
“Quite clearly, it is France that is being attacked,” Macron said, and vowed the country “will not give up on our values.”
The country has been the target of widespread anger in the Islamic world after Macron vowed to take the fight to radicals after the October 16 beheading of a history teacher by an extremist for having shown pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a free speech lesson.
Several suspected radicals have been arrested in dozens of raids in France after teacher Samuel Paty’s murder, and NGOs with alleged links to them have been shuttered.

There have been unconfirmed reports that at least one of the victims was decapitated. (Twitter)

But some claim Macron is unfairly targeting France’s estimated five to six million Muslims — the largest community in Europe.
Several Muslim-majority have launched campaigns to boycott French products, while protesters burnt the tricolor flag and posters of Macron as demonstrations were held in Syria, Libya, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories.
On Thursday, Macron urged people of all religions to unite and not “give in to the spirit of division.”
Daniel Conilh, a 32-year-old waiter at the Grand Cafe de Lyon, a block from the church, said it was shortly before 9:00 am when “shots were fired and everybody took off running.”
“A woman came in straight from the church and said, ‘Run, run, someone has been stabbing people’,” he told AFP.
French anti-terror prosecutors are handling the inquiry.

The attacker was captured by police and taken to hospital. (Twitter)

France has been on high alert since the January 2015 massacre at the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo marked the beginning of a wave of jihadist attacks that have killed more than 250 people.
Tensions have heightened since last month, when the trial opened for 14 suspected accomplices in that attack.
The paper marked the start of the court proceedings by republishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that infuriated millions of Muslims worldwide — the same caricatures that Paty used as lesson material.
Days after the trial opened, an 18-year-old man from Pakistan seriously injured two people with a meat cleaver outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices in Paris.

After Thursday’s attack, Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad sparked outrage by tweeting that “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.” Twitter later deleted his post.
Adding to the nervousness, a Saudi citizen wounded a guard in a knife attack at the French consulate in Jeddah on Thursday.
And police in the city of Lyon said they arrested an Afghan who was spotted carrying a 30-centimeter (12-inch) knife while trying to board a tram.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Thursday proffered “a message of peace to the Muslim world,” saying France was a “country of tolerance.”
“Do not listen to the voices that want to stoke distrust,” he said in parliament.
World leaders expressed solidarity with France, including US President Donald Trump who tweeted: “These Radical Islamic terrorist attacks must stop immediately. No country, France or otherwise can long put up with it!“
In Nice, painful memories remain fresh of a jihadist attack during Bastille Day fireworks on July 14, 2016, when a man rammed his truck into a crowded promenade, killing 86 people.
Abdallah Zekri, director general of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) denounced Thursday’s attack and urged French Muslims to cancel festivities to mark the Mawlid, or the Prophet’s birthday, which ends Thursday, “in solidarity with the victims and their loved ones.”

Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

Updated 1 min 13 sec ago

Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

  • In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements

BRUSSELS: An Iranian diplomat goes on trial in Belgium on Friday accused of plotting to bomb an opposition rally outside Paris, in a case that has stoked tensions with Tehran.
The case shines another uncomfortable light on Iran’s international activities just as it hopes to ease tensions with the United States after President Donald Trump tore up the 2015 nuclear deal signed by both countries and other world powers.
It also comes a day after a prisoner swap that saw the release of three Iranians jailed over a 2012 bomb plot in Thailand, in exchange for the freeing of an Australian-British lecturer imprisoned by Tehran for alleged spying.
In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements.
Later that year, the French government accused Iran’s intelligence service of being behind the operation, a charge the Islamic republic has furiously denied.
Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old Iranian diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces life in prison if convicted.
The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which includes the People’s Mojahedin of Iran or (MEK), organized a rally in Villepinte outside Paris on June 30, 2018.
Several well-known international figures — including former US and British officials and Franco-Colombian former senator Ingrid Betancourt — and NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi were to attend.
On the same morning, Belgian police intercepted a Belgian-Iranian couple driving from Antwerp and carrying half-a-kilo of TATP explosives and a detonator.
The arrested couple, 36-year-old Nassimeh Naami and 40-year-old Amir Saadouni, join Assadi in the dock, alongside another alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, 57.
All four are charged with attempting to carry out a terrorist attack and taking part in the activity of a terrorist group. All face life sentences.
Assadi was arrested while he was traveling through Germany where he had no immunity from prosecution, being outside of the country of his diplomatic posting.
Arefani, an Iranian poet who had lived in Belgium for more than a decade, was arrested in France in 2018 after Belgium issued a European arrest warrant.

Counsel representing those targeted by the alleged attack say Arefani was close to Assadi, said to be the architect of the plot, and point to an Austrian SIM card found in his possession.
The two men deny any connection.
“We are looking at a clear case of state terrorism,” said lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier, who is representing the interests of the NCRI, along with French colleague William Bourdon.
Dimitri de Beco, defense counsel for Assadi, has accused the civil plaintiffs of trying to turn the case into a political trial on behalf of the opposition movement.
According to Iran expert Francois Nicoullaud — a former French ambassador to Tehran — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was surprised to learn about the failed attack.
“Visiting Europe at the time, he was absolutely furious to learn about this intelligence service operation, on which he hadn’t been consulted,” the diplomat told AFP.
At the time of the alleged plot, Rouhani was trying to maintain the support of European capitals for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration.
When Paris pointed the finger at Iranian intelligence, an Iranian spokesman voiced denial and alleged that opponents of the deal in “certain quarters” were attempting to frame Tehran.
That idea was dismissed by observers like Nicoullaud as a smokescreen. “It’s not serious,” he said.
The trial is scheduled to take two days, Friday and then Thursday next week. The court is then expected to adjourn to consider its verdict before ruling early next year.