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Thousands to turn out for funeral of slain French priest

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Thousands to turn out for funeral of slain French priest
Photo: AFP
07:49 CEST+02:00
Over 2,000 mourners are expected at Rouen Cathedral on Tuesday to pay their respects to the French priest who was killed in a brutal knife attack by jihadists as he said mass.

French priest Father Jacques Hamel, who was murdered in an attack by two jihadists on his Catholic church in a Normandy town, will be laid to rest on Tuesday.

According to his diocese, the funeral for the 85-year-old priest will be held at the 11th-century Gothic cathedral of the northern city of Rouen, where Muslims and Christians came together to mourn his death at a mass on Sunday.

He will then be buried in a ceremony attended only by close family members, at a location which has not been revealed.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve is expected to attend the funeral mass along with around 2,000 other mourners, however president François Hollande is not expected to attend. Hundreds more are expected to gather outside the cathedral.

The service will take place amid tight security, given the heightened terror threat. A big screen will be set up outside the cathedral to broadcast the service for those who cannot get inside.

Hamel became the latest victim of a terror attack in France when two 19-year-old jihadists stormed his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray last Tuesday and slit his throat at the altar.

Abdel Malik Petitjean and Adel Kermiche had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and both were shot dead by police after a tense hostage drama in which a worshipper was left seriously wounded. Three other hostages escaped unharmed.

The attack stunned France's religious communities, sparking fears of tensions in a country with a population of some five million Muslims.

However, the two communities have largely rallied together, with churches opening their doors to Muslims on Sunday for a moving tribute to Hamel, and against radical Islam.

Pope Francis said Islam could not be equated with terrorism.

"It's not true and it's not correct (to say) Islam is terrorism," he said, defending his decision not to name Islam when condemning the brutal murder.

"If I have to talk about Islamic violence I have to talk about Christian violence. Every day in the newspapers I see violence in Italy, someone kills his girlfriend, another kills his mother-in-law, and these are baptised Catholics."

The church attack came just two weeks after Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ploughed a 19-tonne truck into a massive crowd celebrating Bastille Day in the Riviera city of Nice, leaving 84 dead and injuring more than 300 people.

The repeat attacks in France have raised tough questions about security failures, but also about the foreign funding of many mosques.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Monday that authorities have shut down around 20 mosques and prayer halls considered to be preaching radical Islam since December.

"There is no place ... in France for those who call for and incite hatred in prayer halls or in mosques, and who don't respect certain republican principles, notably equality between men and women," the minister said.

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