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French Church Attack: Priest Killed, ISIS Claims Responsibility | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Police and rescue workers stand at the scene after two assailants had taken five people hostage in the church at Saint-Etienne-du -Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy, France, July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Bonet

A priest has been killed in an attack by two armed men at a church in Normandy, northern France, on Tuesday.

A police source told Reuters that it looked like the priest had his throat slit by a knife.

The attackers took the priest Fr Jacques Hamel, 84, and four other people hostage at the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, south of Rouen, during mass. The four other hostages included two nuns and two worshippers according to BFM TV.

The French interior ministry spokesman, Pierre-Henri Brandet, said the church was later surrounded by the elite BRI, often called the “anti-gang brigade”, which specialises in kidnappings.

He stated that “the two assailants came out and were killed by police”.

Three of the hostages were freed unharmed, but one was in critical condition.

Brandet also said that the investigation into the attack would be led by anti-terrorism prosecutors.

Speaking in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, French President Francois Hollande said the attackers “claimed to be from ISIS”.

“I have met with the family of the priest and I have spoken to the people kept hostage who expressed their pain and sadness as well as a wish to comprehend what has happened,” said Hollande.

ISIS claimed responsibility, saying the church attack was carried out by two of its “soldiers”, reported AP.

One of the attackers was known to the French intelligence services, according to French TV channel M6.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls reacted to the “barbaric” attack on twitter.

“I am horrified by the barbaric attack at the Seine-Maritime church. All France and all Catholics are hurt. We will stand shoulder to shoulder,” said Valls.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombard said the “The pope … shares the pain and horror of this absurd violence,” saying that the attack created “immense pain and worry”.

Pope Francis issued “the most severe condemnation of all forms of hatred”. He expressed that he was shocked “because this horrific violence took place in a church, a sacred place” and involved the “barbaric” killing of a priest.

The church attack comes less than two weeks after a Tunisian man, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, drove a truck over a crowd of people in Nice celebrating Bastille Day, killing 84 people. ISIS claimed he had acted in response to its demands that civilians living in countries attacking the militant group should be harmed.

Following the attack in Nice, France extended a state of emergency for another six months. It is not yet known whether the country will further extend it after the Normandy attack.