Ter­ror­ism in France

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - SYLVIE COR­BET AND LORI HINNANT

Priest bru­tally mur­dered in church, hostages used as hu­man shields

FRANCE — The Is­lamic State group crossed a new thresh­old Tues­day in its war against the West: Two of its fol­low­ers at­tacked a church in Nor­mandy, slit­ting the throat of an el­derly priest cel­e­brat­ing mass and us­ing hostages as hu­man shields be­fore be­ing shot by po­lice.

It was the ex­trem­ist group’s first at­tack against a church in the West, and ful­fils long-stand­ing threats against “cru­saders” in what the mil­i­tants paint as a cen­turies-old bat­tle for power.

One of the at­tack­ers, who grew up in the town, had tried twice to leave for Syria; the sec­ond was not iden­ti­fied.

“To at­tack a church, to kill a priest, is to pro­fane the republic,” French Pres­i­dent François Hol­lande told the na­tion af­ter speak­ing with Pope Fran­cis, who con­demned the killing in the strong­est terms.

Rev. Jac­ques Hamel was cel­e­brat­ing mass for three nuns and two parish­ioners on a quiet sum­mer morn­ing in Saint-Étienne-duRou­vray when the at­tack­ers burst in and forced the 85-year-old priest to his knees be­fore slic­ing his throat, ac­cord­ing to author­i­ties and a nun who es­caped.

She de­scribed see­ing the at­tack­ers film them­selves and give a ser­mon in Ara­bic around the al­tar be­fore she fled.

Paris pros­e­cu­tor François Molins said the other hostages were used as hu­man shields to block po­lice from en­ter­ing. One el­derly parish­ioner was wounded.

The two at­tack­ers were killed by po­lice as they rushed from the build­ing shout­ing “Al­lahu ak­bar,” Molins said.

One had three knives and a fake ex­plo­sives belt. The other car­ried a kitchen timer wrapped in alu­minum foil and had fake ex­plo­sives in his back­pack.

One of the as­sailants was iden­ti­fied as Adel Ker­miche, a 19-year-old who tried to travel to Syria twice last year us­ing fam­ily mem­bers’ iden­tity doc­u­ments, but was ar­rested out­side France and handed pre­lim­i­nary ter­ror­ism charges. Ker­miche had an elec­tronic sur­veil­lance bracelet af­ter a judge over­ruled pros­e­cu­tors and agreed to free him, Molins said.

A state­ment pub­lished by the ISaf­fil­i­ated Amaq news agency said Tues­day’s at­tack was car­ried out by “two sol­diers of the Is­lamic State” who acted in re­sponse to calls to tar­get na­tions in the U.S.-led coali­tion fight­ing the ex­trem­ist group in Iraq and Syria.

Haras Rafiq, manag­ing di­rec­tor of the Quil­liam Foun­da­tion, de­scribed the at­tack as a turn­ing point. “What these two peo­ple to­day have done is ... shifted the tac­ti­cal at­tack to the at­tack on Rome ... an at­tack on Chris­tian­ity,” he said.

He warned that it could “rad­i­cal­ize peo­ple from both sides of the com­mu­ni­ties. Mus­lim and non-Mus­lim.”

As Europe be­comes painfully in­ured to a sum­mer of re­peated blood­shed, the ex­trem­ists are look­ing for greater ways to shock, Rafiq said. “This is go­ing into a house of God. This is at­tack­ing and killing a priest.”

“We’ve been talking about the dan­ger of the global ji­hadist in­sur­gency. This is what it looks like,” he said.

The in­creas­ing speed with which IS has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity and the grow­ing num­ber of at­tacks this sum­mer have left Europe alarmed and fear­ful.

Tar­get­ing a church in the ru­ral Nor­mandy heart­land res­onated with France’s lead­er­ship and Chris­tians across Europe.

While France is of­fi­cially sec­u­lar and church at­ten­dance is low, the coun­try has deep Catholic roots.

Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists have urged fol­low­ers to at­tack French churches and the group is be­lieved to have planned at least one ear­lier church at­tack that was foiled when the as­sailant shot him­self in the leg.

The slain priest had been at the church for the past decade and “was al­ways ready to help,” said Rouen dio­cese of­fi­cial Philippe Ma­heut.

“His de­sire was to spread a mes­sage for which he con­se­crated his life,” Ma­heut said. “And he cer­tainly didn’t think that con­se­crat­ing his life would mean for him to die while cel­e­brat­ing mass, which is a mes­sage of love.”

A nun who es­caped said the priest was forced to the ground be­fore his throat was slit. “They forced him to his knees. He wanted to de­fend him­self.”

FRAN­COIS MORI, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Po­lice of­fi­cers stand guard at Saint-Eti­enne-du-Rouvray’s city hall on Tues­day, af­ter an at­tack that left a priest dead.

Jac­ques Hamel: Priest was killed at mass.

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