Normandy attack: France aims to prevent ‘war of religions’

François Hollande to meet faith leaders after murder of priest by Islamic State supporters

 

President François Hollande will meet leaders of all French religious communities this morning in the hope of preventing a war of religion after two militants affiliated with Islamic State slashed the throat of an aged priest and critically wounded a male parishoner in a small town in Normandy.

“By attacking a priest, in a Catholic church, the objective was to pit French people against each other, to attack one religion to provoke a war of religions,” prime minister Manuel Valls said last night.

Hubert Wulfranc is the mayor of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, population 28,000, in the southern suburbs of Rouen, where the killings took place.

“Let us be the last to weep, and let us be the last ones standing against barbarity and in respect for all,” Mr Wulfranc said in front of the town hall, choking back sobs.

Mr Hollande telephoned Pope Francis to express “the grief of the French people” after the attack on the church and the murder of Fr Jacques Hamel (86). 

“Everything will be done to protect our churches and places of worship,” the French leader said. 

“When a priest is attacked, all France is wounded.” 

Mr Hollande also spoke of “the role of France in defending eastern Christians”.

Pope Francis said he shared “the grief and horror” of France and condemned “the barbaric murder . . . in the most radical way.”

The killers entered the church through a back chapel during morning Mass and took six hostages, one of whom, a nun, escaped to raise the alarm. 

After killing Fr Jacques, the assassins filmed themselves inside the church, to claim their attack on behalf of Islamic State, also known as Isis. 

They ran out towards anti-terrorist commandos who had surrounded the church, shouting “Allahu Akbar” and were shot dead.

Attacker identified

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins identified one of the killers as Adel Kermiche (19) from Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray. 

He had tried twice to reach Syria, and was arrested in Turkey last year and extradited to France, where he served ten months in prison. 

Kermiche wore an electronic surveillance bracelet and was permitted to leave his parents’ home between 8.30am and 12.30pm only – the time when he commited the atrocity.

The second killer has not been identified.

The conservative Les Républicains party renewed calls for more severe measures, including house arrest for 11,500 people on the “S” (for “Security”) list, the immediate expulsion of all radicalised foreigners and a complete halt to immigration from countries at risk.

Mr Hollande has tried to resist what he considers unconstitutional demands by the right. 

“I say it clearly:  limiting our civil liberties, making exceptions to constitutional rights would not make the fight against terrorism any more efficient, and would surely weaken the cohesion that is so precious to our nation,” he said in a televised declaration last night. 

“I promise you, we will win this war.”