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TERRORISM

Thousands to turn out for funeral of slain French priest

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.

Thousands to turn out for funeral of slain French priest
Photo: AFP

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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TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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