What we know about the attack on the French church

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What we know about the attack on the French church
Photo: AFP

A priest was killed after armed men took over a church in northern France, before they too were killed by police. Here is what we know.


What actually happened?
At around 10am on Tuesday, two men armed with knives entered a church in the small town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen in northern France. 
They took two parishioners, a priest, and two nuns hostage.
Police were alerted by a nun who managed to escape, and officers and firefighters came to the scene. 
What followed was a one-hour stand-off that ended with the two attackers shot dead by specialist elite police who had surrounded the church. 

It emerged soon after that the men killed the priest by slitting his throat.

It remains unknown as yet exactly what happened inside the church, and at what point the priest was killed. 
A further three people were injured during the attack, one of whom has been left in a critical condition. 
The men came out of the church firing at police, injuring one police officer, according to Le Parisien newspaper
While this remains unconfirmed, it would mean the attackers had at least one gun as well as their knives. 
Who were the attackers?
There were two attackers, both of them men, and they were both killed by police.
French President Francois Hollande said that the men "claimed to be from Daesh", using the Arabic name for the Islamic State group.
The attack was claimed by Isis on Tuesday afternoon via its news agency Amaq. 
Unconfirmed reports in the French press said the two men shouted "Daesh" (an Arabic acronym for God) while entering the church, but these claims were not confirmed.
The identities of the two men are likely to become known as investigations continue, but there were reports in the French press that one of the attackers was convicted in 2015 for association with a terrorist group and for attempting to travel to Syria.
Apparently the man was freed and placed under surveillance by having to wear an electronic bracelet. These reports however are unconfirmed.
If the men were indeed radicalized Islamists, as was the man who killed 84 in Nice on Bastille Day earlier this month, then their profiles also match that of Sid Ahmed Ghlam, who is understood to have been planning an attack on a church near Paris last year.
Police were able to thwart the attack before the man reached the church, although he killed one woman on the way. 
Who are the victims?
Jacques Hamel, the 84-year-old priest of the church, was killed in the attack.
According to the diocese of Rouen, Hamel became a priest in 1958 and celebrated his “Golden Jubilee”, marking 50 years of priesthood, in 2008.
The man was a respected member of the small community. 
"My family has lived here for 35 years, we always knew him," a friend of the priest told l’Express newspaper.
"He was someone who was very appreciated in the town. He was very inconspicuous, he never liked putting himself first."
There were another three church goers injured in the attack, one of whom has been left fighting for their life, according to the Bishop of Rouen. 
It remains unclear who these three people are, other than that they were in the church at the time, either as parishioners or nuns.  
Priest killed as knifemen take hostages at French church
Was it a terrorist attack?
The attack was claimed by Isis on Tuesday afternoon via its news agency Amaq. 
Even before President Hollande condemned the incident as a "vile terrorist attack" and said the attackers "claimed to be from Isis" French authorities had drafted in specialist counter-terror judges to investigate the case.
It appears certain the killing and hostage taking was just the latest in a long line of terror attacks in France dating back to January 2015.
France has long feared churches in the country would be targeted by jihadists because of the symbolism.
What have been the reactions to the attack?

President Francois Hollande, who is originally from Rouen, and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve are both in the area meeting with the families of the victims.
Hollande called it a "vile terrorist attack" and vowed to wage war against the Islamic State "by every means" within the law.
"We are confronted with a group, Daesh, which has declared war on us," Hollande said.
"We have to wage war, by every means, (but through) upholding the law, which is because we are a democracy."
France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed his "horror at the barbaric attack".
"The whole of France and all Catholics are wounded. We will stand together," he wrote on Twitter.
French far-right politician Marion Marechal Le Pen, the niece of Marine Le Pen, tweeted: "They’re killing our children, assassinating our police officers, and slitting the throats of our priests. Wake up!"
Pope Francis voiced his "pain and horror" at the hostage-taking, according to the Vatican.
The archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, urged all non-believers to join those of the church in "calling to God".
"The Catholic Church can take up no other weapons than prayer and fraternity between men," he said in a statement.



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