France mourns 3 dead in attack on church, steps up security

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NICE, FRANCE – Mourners lit candles and prayed silently on Friday to honor three people killed in a knife attack at a church, as France tightened security against potential targets in its country and to the alien amid outrage for his defense of the right to publish cartoons mocking the prophet of Islam. The attacker, who recently arrived in Europe from Tunisia, has been hospitalized with life-threatening injuries, and investigators in France and his home country are examining his motives and connections, although authorities have previously said that he was acting alone. Tunisian counterterrorism authorities on Friday opened an investigation into an online liability claim by a person who said the attack on Notre Dame Basilica in Nice in the Mediterranean city of Nice was organized by a Tunisian extremist group until then unknown.

From Pakistan to Russia and Lebanon, Muslims staged more protests on Friday to show their anger at the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that were recently republished in a French newspaper as well as French President Emmanuel Macron’s staunch defense of the move. and its firm stand against political Islam.

Macron’s government stood firm and called in thousands of reserve troops to protect France and strengthen security at French sites abroad. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the country is “at war” with Islamist extremists, and a conservative lawmaker in the Nice region has called for a “French Guantanamo” to lock up suspected terrorists.

Many French Muslims denounced the killings, while warning of the stigmatization of the country’s peaceful Muslim majority.

As investigators sought to develop a photo of the assailant, identified as Ibrahim Issaoui, they arrested a second suspect, a 47-year-old man who was said to have been in contact with Issaoui the night before, according to a judicial official who is expressed conditionally. of anonymity because he was not authorized to be named.

Issaoui’s mother told Tunisian investigators her son was leading a “normal life” for his age, drinking alcohol and dressing casually, and started praying two years ago but did not show no suspicious activity, said Mohsen Dali, spokesperson for the Tunisian anti-terrorism prosecution.

He told The Associated Press that Issaoui was not accused of radicalism and decided on September 14 to emigrate illegally to Italy – after a failed first attempt – and reached Nice the day before the attack. Before Nice, Issaoui, born in 1999, arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa on September 20, the French anti-terrorism prosecution said.

Dali said an online post claimed the attack was organized by a group called Al Mehdi from southern Tunisia, hitherto unknown to Tunisian authorities. The French authorities do not comment on this allegation.

Issaoui’s mother, Qamra, who lives in the Tunisian province of Sfax, told Saudi channel Al-Arabiya TV earlier with tears in her eyes that she was surprised to learn that her son was in France. when he called when he arrived and had no idea what he was planning.

“You don’t know the French language, you don’t know anyone there, you’re going to live there alone, why, why did you go there? She recounted telling him.

His brother told Al-Arabiya that Issaoui said he would sleep in front of the church and sent a photo showing him to the basilica in Nice. A neighbor said he knew the assailant when he was a mechanic, held various odd jobs and showed no signs of radicalization.

Tunisians fleeing an economy ravaged by viruses constitute the largest contingent of migrants arriving in Italy this year. Italian media reported that upon arrival, Issaoui was placed with 800 other people on a virus quarantine boat.

Italy’s Interior Minister confirmed on Friday that the suspect was ordered to leave on October 9, but did not say whether steps had been taken to ensure this.

Minister Luciana Lamorgese called Thursday’s attack in France “an attack on Europe. Let us not forget that Lampedusa, in Italy, is the gateway to Europe ”.

As France entered a new antivirus lock on Friday, four soldiers armed with rifles periodically walked past the church in Nice, and mourners placed flowers, messages and candles at the entrance, passing each other and praying in silence for the three victims.

Among them were Vincent Loques, the 55-year-old churchwarden, father of two children. Arahmi Ihou, owner of a nearby internet cafe, mourned him like someone who was “nice to everyone – people (of) all nationalities”.

“This is my church where I got married and had my children baptized and where I come to pray,” said parishioner Eliane Bacchetta. “Yesterday my daughter was here with her little one, and she was there when it happened – the 4 year old is traumatized. ”

Another victim was Simone Barreto Silva, of Brazilian origin, 44, a mother of three, who moved to France to join a dance group led by her sister and worked in elderly care, according to the Brazilian media portal G1. Silva was playful and dreamed of traveling the world in a food truck, her friend Ivana Gomes Amorim told G1.

“She was also a fighter, and she died as a warrior. Despite her injury, she ran and was able to sound the alarm, preventing a greater tragedy, ”Anderson Argolo, who knew Silva’s family, told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. .

The attack was the third in less than two months that French authorities have attributed to Muslim extremists, including the beheading of a teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a civics course after the republication of the images by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

The images deeply offended many Muslims, and protesters burned French flags, trampled on portraits of Macron or called for a boycott of French products during protests in several countries on Friday.

Government ministers said on Friday that 3,500 reserve troops would join thousands more protecting schools and religious sites. Schools remain open during a nationwide lockdown that began on Friday to stem the spread of the virus, but church services are canceled – except this Sunday for All Saints.

The sympathetic imam Otmane Aissaoui denounced an “act of terrible terror, savagery, human madness which plunges us into sadness, shock and pain” – and once again puts French Muslims in the spotlight.

The attacker “hit brothers and sisters who prayed to their lord,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s as if a mosque is hit. … I am deeply Christian today. ”

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Charlton reported from Paris. Bouazza ben Bouazza in Tunis, Tunisia, Christiana Sciaudone in Sao Paulo and Colleen Barry in Milan contributed.

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