BREAKING NEWS – A priest has been ‘beheaded’ and nuns and worshipers were taken hostage by two ISIS terrorists during early morning mass who then cut his throat. The incident happened in a small French church and led to a siege by local police which as now ended in the Muslim terrorists being shot dead.
In all, police say five people including the 86-year-old priest, two nuns and two parishioners were held by assailants who raided the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy during morning mass at 9 a.m. The slain priest was identified as Jacques Hamel, is believed to have been beheaded during the attack while another hostage, thought to be a nun, is fighting for life in a nearby hospital.
The two Muslim terrorists were eventual put down by police snipers as they emerged from the church. Bomb squads are currently searching the building for any explosive devices which might have been left behind in the attack. The Muslim terrorist group ISIS has claimed responsibility for the killing. According to witnesses, the terrorists shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they ran out of the church while at least one of the men was dressed in Islamic clothing.
Officials have confirmed that church was one of a number of Catholic churches on a terrorist ‘hit list’ found on a suspected Muslim terrorists last April. There are also reports that one of the attackers was a local resident who was under electronic tag surveillance having been jailed in France for trying to travel to Syria in 2015. His bail terms allowed him to be unsupervised between 8.30am and 12.30pm – the attack happened between 9am and 11.am.
ISIS has already claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement published by its Aamaq news agency. It said the killing was carried out by ‘two soldiers of the Islamic State.’ The statement also said that the killing was in response to its calls to target countries of the US-led coalition which is fighting ISIS.
Pope Francis has expressed his ‘pain and horror’ at the incident with a spokesman saying the Pontiff was appalled by the ‘barbaric killing’ because it happened in a sacred place. In addition, The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: ‘Evil attacks the weakest, denies truth and love, is defeated through Jesus Christ. Pray for France, for victims, for their communities.’
French President Francois Hollande, visiting the scene of the attack, condemned the ‘vile terrorist attack’ which he said had been carried out by two men who ‘claimed to be from Daesh’ and insisted France needed to fight the war against ISIS ‘by all means’.
Authorities said the two Muslim terrorists held the priest and congregation of four – which included two nuns – hostage for almost an hour before being shot as they emerged on to the courtyard of the church. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Paris had earlier said that they had crept into the church via a back entrance during a morning service, soon after 9am. The two men seized the priest, two sisters from a local order, and two parishioners.
‘A third nun escaped and raised the alarm, and anti-terrorists officers were on the scene within minutes,’ said a source who lives locally. ‘It appears that the priest who was celebrating the service was attacked first, and had his throat cut. ‘The area around the church was sealed off, and then armed officers appeared with their weapons. I heard at least a dozen shots.’
The siege officially ended at around 11am, following the shooting of the two attackers. In what can only be described a total collapse in the justice system, this morning, security sources said one of the terrorist murderers was a convicted terrorist who was supposed to be living with his parents and wearing an electronic monitor on his ankle. That disclosure is sure to cause further outrage in a country devastated by constant security failings.
A source said that the identities of the two terrorists were already known to the authorities. One, who lived close to the church, left for Syria in 2015 to try and join ISIS, but he was arrested in Turkey. The subject was jailed for terrorist offences following a short trial in France, before being released on March 2 this year. Bail conditions included returning to live with his parents, wearing an electronic tagging device, and reporting to his local police station.Neither of the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray attackers have yet been named.
French security services have been regularly criticized for the way they allow known terrorists their freedom after being found guilty of crimes. Today’s attack is the latest to hit Europe in what has been a year of bloodshed on the continent:
Eulalie Garcia, who works in a beauty parlour, is on the same road as the church, and told reporters that she knew the priest, who had taught her the catechism as a young girl.
‘My family has lived here for 35 years and we have always known him,’ she said. ‘He was someone who was treasured by the community. He was very discreet and didn’t like to draw attention to himself.’
She said she was very shocked by the death of the priest, who lived opposite his church. ‘It can happen to anyone,’ she said. Meanwhile, Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen later confirmed that Father Jacques Hamel had been killed.
In a statement from Krakow, Poland, where Pope Francis was visiting, Lebrun says ‘I cry out to God, with all men of good will. And I invite all non-believers to unite with this cry … The Catholic Church has no other arms besides prayer and fraternity between men.’
The area around the church remains cordoned off at this time. The French Police Nationale gave no details about the situation but sent a Tweet urging media not to cross security tape at the scene or take pictures or video.
Saint-Etienne du Rouvray has a population of 30,000 and is around seven miles from Rouen. The incident comes as France is on high alert after a Bastille Day attack that killed 84 people in Nice and a series of deadly attacks last year claimed by ISIS.
This morning it emerged Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray was one of a number of Catholic churches on a terrorist ‘hit list’ found on a suspected ISIS terrorist. Sid Ahmed Ghlam, 24, was arrested in April 2015 after he called an ambulance in Paris after shooting himself in the leg. Investigators believe he was a terrorist planning ‘imminent attacks’ in France on the instructions of ISIS leaders.
Documents found at his flat and in a search of his computer and telephone, suggested Ghlam was in contact with a French speaker in Syria whohad ordered him to carry out attacks on churches. These included the Sacre-Couer basilica in Paris, and places of worship including the one in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray targeted today.
Ghlam is currently in a high-security prison while waiting trial for ‘murder, attempted murder, association with criminals with a view to commit crimes against people’ and for other infractions ‘connected to a terrorist organization’.
The computer student, who born in Algeria, was also charged with the murder of a 32-year-old woman, who was found in the passenger seat of her burning car after his arrest. Dance instructor Aurelie Chatelain, a mother of one, who had just attended a Pilates class, died after she was shot three times in the head, in what police believe may have been an attempt by Ghlam to hijack her car.
The church were two cowardly Muslim Terrorists armed with knives took several people hostage this morning in France’s northern Normandy region on Tuesday
The Daily Mail contributed to this story.
©2016 R. L. Grimes