Two Muslim terrorists allied with the Islamic State stormed into a Catholic church in northern France during the midst of the celebration of Mass. They took hostages and then cut the throat of the 86-year-old priest in the church. A team of police trained in special weapons and techniques came to the scene and shot the two militants to death. Bomb disposal units are on hand, seeking any possible explosive devices left behind by the attackers. Two of the hostages were nuns.
In Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, about 35 miles southeast of the port of Le Havre in Normandy, French soldiers are patrolling the narrow streets near the church where the martyrdom took place. Mourners are gathering at the little church. One of the hostages who survived the assault is being treated for life-threatening injuries, said Pierre-Henry Brandet. Ever since Bastille Day – July 14 – France has remained under a state of emergency due to the deadly attack in Nice that claimed the lives of 84 people at the hands of a Tunisian of long residence in France. More than 100 were wounded.
French President Francois Hollande said France will use “all means” necessary to combat the Islamic State. He did not give details on possible new domestic measures or a possible of expansion of French support for the U.S.-led coalition currently waging airstrikes against the Islamic State strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
An official at the Archdiocese of Rouen identified the slain priest as Fr. Jacques Hamel.
A report by the Islamic State’s official Amaq news agency described the assailants as “soldiers” of the Muslim cause, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. It was not clear whether they had any direct contact with the Islamic State, which controls huge swaths of Iraq and Syria.
Hollande traveled to the church near the city of Rouen in Normandy region verified that the marauders had pledged allegiance to Islamic State. He was joined by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve at the site of the church attack.
Coming in the wake of several deadly attacks, not only in France but Germany as well, the latest bloodletting is expected to place further pressure on security officials to implement stricter controls. So far this month, Muslim terrorists have claimed over 100 lives, including those killed by a Tunisian truck driver who mowed down revelers on Bastille Day in Nice, as well as a suicide bombing and an armed attack in Germany.
Of late, security and intelligence officials in Europe have begun to scrutinize so-called “lone wolf” militants who are radicalized by Islamic State propaganda and pledge individual loyalty to political Islam. Previously, much of the attention had been focused on suspected militants returning from fighting with the Islamic State in the Middle East.
The critics of France's Socialist government have regularly taken President Hollande to task for his perceived ineptitude in addressing terror. Among them was the leader of the National Front party, Marine Le Pen, who tweeted: "The responsibility of those who have governed us for 30 years is immense."
Papal spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi denounced the “barbarous killing” at the church. Rev. Lombardi said Pope Francis was shaken by “the pain and horror of this absurd violence” and “condemned, in the most radical way, any form of hate.”
The Islamic State has destroyed Christian churches and monasteries in Syria and Iraq, including a more than 1,400-year-old Christian monastery near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Christians have been crucified, persecuted, and rousted out of their homes and businesses by the Muslims. However, this appears to be the first ISIS attack in Europe specifically directed at a Christian place of worship.
“I cry out to God with all men of good will. I would invite non-believers to join in the cry,” said Archbishop Dominique Lebrun, who is returning to France from World Youth Day in Poland. “The Catholic Church cannot take weapons other than those of prayer and brotherhood among men. I leave here hundreds of young people who are the future of humanity, the true ones. I ask them not to give in to the violence and become apostles of the civilization of love.”
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has taken to Twitter to condemn the “barbaric attack.” “The whole of France and all Catholics are wounded. We will stand together,” he said.
Cardinal Robert Sarah wrote on Twitter that he was “deeply shocked, horrified and scandalised” by the attack. “How many deaths for European governments to understand the situation in the West?” he wrote.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.