Two knife-wielding men who killed an elderly priest during a hostage situation at a church in France on Tuesday claimed allegiance to so-called Islamic State, the French president has said.
Armed men took several people hostage at the Church of the Gambetta in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy. They both died after being shot by police.
François Hollande described the siege as a “vile terrorist attack” after the men cut the throat of the 84-year-old priest, identified as Jacques Hamel.
Another hostage was seriously injured and is in a critical condition.
One person has been detained in the investigation into the attack, French prosecutors said.
Sky News reported that Isis claimed the attack was carried out by two of its “soldiers”.
A nun who managed to escape said the attackers asked the priest to kneel before they killed him.
She said the pair then filmed his murder, ITV News reports.
A spokesman for the Paris prosecutor’s office, which oversees investigations involving terrorism, said a person had been detained but gave no details on the identity or location, the Associated Press reports.
A government spokesman said that a bomb disposal unit is checking that there are no hidden explosives in the church and surrounding area.
Reports that one of the attackers was on the French government’s terror watchlist is likely to raise questions about the effectiveness of the security services, which have been placed under growing scrutiny following recent terror attacks.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed “horror at barbaric attack on church”.
The case is being handled by anti-terrorism prosecutors.
A priest, two nuns and two worshippers were taken hostage by the armed men at about 10am local time (9am UK time).
French media reported that the two men had been shot dead, with Reuters quoting a police source saying the suspects have been “neutralised”.
A woman who works nearby said she knew the elderly priest since she was a child.
Eulalie Garcia told BBC News: “My family has lived here for 35 years and we have always known him,” she said.
“He was someone who was treasured by the community.
“He was very discreet and didn’t like to draw attention to himself.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury described the attack as “evil”, adding: “Pray for France, for victims, for their communities.”
The Vatican condemned the “barbarous killing” of the priest.
The police operation was completed by 11am French time (10am UK time). Officers from the elite anti-terrorist Raid squad were called in to assist local police.
The area around the church remained cordoned off and the old town was out of bounds.
The French Police Nationale gave no details about the situation but sent a tweet urging media not to cross security tape at the scene or take pictures or video.
Speaking at the scene of the attack, Hollande said France should “use all its means” in its war against Isis.
France has launched air strikes against the militant group in Syria and Iraq.
“We are put to the test yet again, Hollande said. “The threat remains very high.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May said “the terrorists will not win”.
She said: “I think what is necessary is for us all to work together.
“We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with France, we offer them every support we can in dealing with this issue and this threat that they and the rest of us are facing.
“But of one thing I think we are absolutely clear and that is the terrorists will not prevail.
“They are trying to destroy our way of life, they are trying to destroy our values.
“We have shared values and those values will win through and the terrorists will not win.”
The latest attack comes as France remains on high alert after the Nice terror attack earlier this month, which cost the lives of 84 people after Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ploughed through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day.
More than 300 people were injured.
France extended its state of emergency following the Nice terror attack.
The state of emergency, which was imposed following the attacks in Paris in November, was due to end on July 26.
The Paris attacks claimed the lives of 129 people after a concert hall, bars, restaurants and a football stadium were targeted.
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