At least one dead in French church hostage taking | News | DW | 26.07.2016
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At least one dead in French church hostage taking

Several people were taken hostage by two men with knives in a Catholic church in the Normandy region of France. A priest was killed and another hostage badly wounded. The assailants have since been "neutralized."

Two men armed with knives took several people hostage during a church service in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, on Tuesday.

One of the hostages - named by the Catholic Church as an 84-year-old priest, Jacques Hamel - was killed, while another hostage was reported to be in a critical condition. It has been reported that nuns were also among those taken hostage.

The identities of the hostage-takers or what had motivated them was not immediately clear. Both were killed in the police operation which ended the assault.

Five people had been held in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, which is near the city of Rouen in France's northern Normandy region. Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen named the slain priest as Father Jacques Hamel.

France 3, a regional news outlet, reported that the incident began between 9 a.m. and 9.45 a.m. local time (between 0700 and 0745 UTC).

French President Francois Hollande and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve traveled to the scene. The country's anti-terrorism prosecution unit has taken over the investigation.

Hollande told reporters he had met with survivors and first responders. He said the attack was carried out by two "terrorists" who had "claimed to be from Daesh," using the Arabic name for the "Islamic State" group. He labeled the attack "cowardly."

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also issued a statement on Twitter, calling the attack "barbaric" and saying it was a blow to all Catholics and the whole of France.

Pope Francis has expressed his "pain and horror" at the violence, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

"We are particularly struck because this horrible violence has taken place in a church, a sacred place where the love of God is announced, with the brutal killing of a priest," Lombardi added.

France is on high alert and under a state of emergency following a series of deadly attacks on civilians including the Bastille Day attack, which killed 84 people in the southern city of Nice.

One person has been detained in the investigation into the attack, the Paris prosecutor's office said. The prosecutor's office spokeswoman gave no details on the identity or location.

Imam: "I don't understand"

The imam of the mosque in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray said he was "stunned" by the murder of the local priest, who he described as a friend. "I don't understand - all of our prayers go to his family and the Catholic community," said Mohammed Karabila.

"We talked about religion and how to live together. It has been 18 months that civilians have been attacked; now they are attacking religious symbols, using our religion as a pretext. It is no longer possible," he said.

The town's mosque was inaugurated in 2000 on a piece of land gifted by the Catholic parish.

International condemnation

The United States has also condemned the attack. "The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific terrorist attack today at a Catholic church in Normandy, France," US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said.

"France and the United States share a commitment to protecting religious liberty for those of all faiths, and today's violence will not shake that commitment," Price said.

se/rc (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP, KNA)

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