Priest killed in France; ISIS claims attack

Sister Danielle, a nun who escaped the church attack in Normandy, describes the moment two assailants linked to Islamic State took hostages and killed a priest.
A man displays a flower at the makeshift memorial in front of the city hall after a fatal hostage taking incident at the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, France, on July 26.
A man displays a flower at the makeshift memorial in front of the city hall after a fatal hostage taking incident at the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, France, on July 26. PHOTO: EPA

PARIS • Two men stormed a parish church in northern France yesterday morning and took several hostages, killing a priest and critically injuring another person before both attackers were shot dead by police.

The hostage drama in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du- Rouvray, south of Rouen, comes with France already shaken to the core after a massacre in the French Riviera city of Nice less than two weeks ago that left 84 people dead.

Like the Nice killings, the Normandy attack was claimed by the militant group, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to the ISIS-linked Amaq news agency, citing a "security source".

The two attackers stormed the church during morning mass, taking the five people inside hostage, including the priest, said Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre Henry Brandet.

He said the church was surrounded by police from the elite BRI unit, which specialises in kidnappings, and "the two assailants came out and were killed by police".

The priest died after his throat was reportedly slit. Three of the hostages were freed unharmed, and another was seriously injured, said Mr Brandet.

One person in connection with the knife attack has been arrested, a source close to the inquiry said.

The Archbishop of Rouen identified the slain priest as Father Jacques Hamel and said he was 84, although other sources suggest that he was born in 1930. The Vatican condemned what it said was a "barbarous killing".

Speaking at the scene, French President Francois Hollande said France should "use all its means" in its war against ISIS, against which France has launched air strikes in Syria and Iraq.

Singapore offered its condolences in a statement issued last night.

"Singapore condemns this terrorist attack in a house of worship. Nothing can justify such a brutal act," said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2016, with the headline 'Priest killed in France; ISIS claims attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe