France church attack

Elderly priest ‘beheaded’ by two ISIS knifemen at France church

Two men armed with knives have been shot dead after taking several people hostage in a church in northern France.

One of the hostages, Jacques Hamel, an 86-year-old priest, was killed and had his throat slit. He had been the local priest for 20 years.

A second hostage is fighting for their life.

Five people were being held by the knifemen in the church in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near the city of Rouen in Normandy.

The assailants got in through the back door of the church and took the priest, two nuns and two parishioners hostage during morning mass.

Local media reported shots being fired as police confirmed both captors were ‘neutralised’ as they emerged from the church.

French journalist Anne-Elisabeth Moutet told Sky News the assailants reportedly shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ on the steps of the building.

TV footage of the sealed-off crime scene showed one person being stretchered into an ambulance.

The other three hostages were brought out alive.

A spokesman for the ministry of the interior, Pierre Henri Brandet, confirmed the priest was dead and said another hostage was ‘between life and death’.

Mr Brandet told French TV channel BFMTV: ‘The two hostage-takers came out of the church armed and it was at that point that they were neutralised by the police.’

He added a bomb disposal team and special forces were searching the church and its surroundings for possible explosives.

Le Figaro reported one of the hostages managed to escape during the hours-long ordeal and raised the alarm.

Emergency services were quickly on the scene and negotiators were summoned to talk to the hostage-takers.

The French newspaper also reported that the church targeted in Tuesday’s attack was one of several Catholic sites on the hit-list of a 24-year-old Algerian student.

Sid Ahled Ghlam was arrested last year on suspicion of murdering a mother-of-one during a botched attempt to attack a church in Villejuif.

He was sent by Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who directed a cell which carried out the 13 November attacks in Paris during which 130 people were killed and the 22 March attacks in Brussels that killed 32 people.

The identities of the attackers and their motive are unclear.

Anti-terror chiefs have been appointed to take charge of the investigation.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned what he described as ‘a barbaric attack on a church’.

‘The whole of France and all Catholics are wounded. We will stand together,’ he wrote on Twitter.

Pope Francis also expressed his ‘pain and horror’ and said he was appalled by the ‘barbaric killing’.

French President Francois Hollande is at the scene.

The attack comes almost two weeks after the Bastille Day massacre in Nice which left 84 people dead after Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhel drove a truck into a crowd celebrating the national holiday on 14 July.

France has been under a state of emergency since the terror attacks in the capital last year.


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