Three people have been killed and several others wounded after a knife attack near a church in the French city of Nice.
The victims were two women and a man. One has been reported to be a 70-year-old woman who was allegedly beheaded in the church.
Mayor Christian Estrosi said on Twitter the knife attack had happened in or near the city’s Notre Dame church and that police had detained the attacker. He described the attack as terrorism.
One of the people killed inside the church was believed to be the church warden, Estrosi said, adding that a woman had tried to escape from inside the church and had fled into a bar opposite the 19th century neo-Gothic building.
“The suspected knife attacker was shot by police while being detained, he is on his way to hospital, he is alive,” Estrosi said.
“Enough is enough,” Estrosi said. “It’s time now for France to exonerate itself from the laws of peace in order to definitively wipe out Islamo-fascism from our territory.”
Police armed with automatic weapons had put up a security cordon around the church, which is on Nice’s Jean Medecin Avenue, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare. Ambulances and fire service vehicles were also at the scene.
The attack came just hours after French President Emmanuel Macron announced a sweeping new national lockdown will begin on Friday to tackle surging cases of COVID-19 in the country, once again confining people to their homes. “Everyone is in a state of shock,” said Lauren Provost, the editorial director of HuffPost France. “The simultaneity of a new barbaric attack with the second wave of the pandemic and the lockdown is weakening the entire country. Right now, the present and future look bleak to us.”
Within hours of the Nice attack, police killed a man who had threatened passers-by with a handgun in Montfavet, near the southern French city of Avignon.
Also on Thursday, a man was arrested in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after attacking and injuring a guard with a “sharp tool” at the French consulate.
The French Embassy said the consulate was subject to an “attack by knife which targeted a guard,” adding the guard was taken to hospital and his life was not in danger.
“The French embassy strongly condemns this attack against a diplomatic outpost which nothing could justify,” an embassy statement said.
The attack comes while France is still reeling from the fatal attack earlier this month of French middle school teacher Samuel Paty. The attacker, 18-year-old Abdullakh Anzorov, had said he wanted to punish Paty for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics lesson. Anzorov was shot dead by police shortly after the attack.
Since Paty’s killing, French officials – backed by many ordinary citizens – have re-asserted the right to display the cartoons, and the images have been widely displayed at marches in solidarity with the killed teacher.
That has prompted an outpouring of anger in parts of the Muslim world, with some governments accusing French leader Emmanuel Macron of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda.
In Paris, lawmakers in the National Assembly observed a minute’s silence in solidarity with the victims of Thursday’s attack.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “I am appalled to hear the news from Nice this morning of a barbaric attack at the Notre-Dame Basilica.
“Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and the UK stands steadfastly with France against terror and intolerance.”
This story has been updated throughout.
James Martin contributed to this article.