2 Men Take Hostages, Kill Priest In French Church; Attack Claimed By ISIS

July 26, 2016

Updated at 4:10 p.m. with detail on one of the suspects

Two men attacked a church near Rouen, France, on Tuesday, taking several hostages and killing a priest in his mid-80s before the attackers were shot to death by police.

The self-described Islamic State, through the group’s Amaq news agency, claimed responsibility for the attack in the small town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray.

The men were armed with knives and took five hostages — Father Jacques Hamel, two nuns and two parishioners, The Guardian reports.

The attackers killed Hamel by slitting his throat and they seriously injured another hostage. Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet earlier said the wounded person was “between life and death,” but the victim’s condition stabilized later Tuesday.

The three other hostages were rescued by police, The Associated Press reports.

“It was the first known attack inside a French church in recent times,” the wire service writes:

“Islamic State extremists have urged followers to attack French churches and the group is believed to have planned at least one church attack earlier.

“[Tuesday’s] attack once again demonstrates the challenge of combating the threat. French authorities increased security at churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship after attacks in Paris last year, but ensuring constant, blanket security is difficult in a country with a church in every town and village.”

One of the men was known to police and his movements had been monitored for some time.

Later Tuesday, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said that 19-year-old Adel Kermiche had twice tried to use his relatives’ ID cards to travel to Syria and join extremists, the AP reports.

A family friend, Jonathan Sacarabany, told the AP that Kermiche’s family alerted authorities so they could stop him from traveling to join jihadists.

Kermiche was eventually required to wear an electronic surveillance bracelet and check in with police daily.

He was still wearing the bracelet at the time of the attack. Molins said the bracelet “was deactivated for a few hours every morning, corresponding with the time of the attack,” the AP writes. An anonymous source told the wire service there were five hours a day when Kermiche was allowed to leave home without surveillance.

Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Rouen have condemned and mourned the attack.

The Vatican called the killing of Hamel “barbaric.”

“I cry out to God, with all men of good will. And I invite all non-believers to unite with this cry,” Archbishop Dominique Lebrun wrote, according to the AP. “The Catholic Church has no other arms besides prayer and fraternity between men.”

French President Francois Hollande called the killing and hostage-taking a “vile terrorist attack” and reiterated France’s commitment to battling the Islamic State.

“We are put to the test yet again,” Hollande said, according to Reuters.

ISIS also claimed responsibility for the truck attack in Nice on July 14, which killed 84 people, as well as the Charlie Hebdo and November attacks in Paris last year.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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