France raises its alert level to the maximum after the attack in Nice

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PARIS – The French Prime Minister has said the country is on high alert after the murder of three people in the Notre-Dame Basilica in the south of the city of Nice. A man armed with a knife attacked two women and a man at church Thursday morning before being shot dead by police. While lying injured, the mayor of Nice declared that the attacker had repeated “Allah Akbar! ” again and again. The French authorities have opened an investigation into terrorism.

Prime Minister Jean Castex told French lawmakers the country would increase its level of “emergency” alert in response to the attack, which comes amid high tensions over the republication of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons by satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo . The cartoons have inflamed the anger of Muslims around the world.

Castex’s announcement came hours before France entered a month-long lockdown against the coronavirus.

Thursday’s attack was the third since the opening of a terrorism trial in the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket.

THIS IS A BRIEF UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.

An assailant armed with a knife killed three people in a church Thursday in the Mediterranean city of Nice, French authorities said. It was the third attack in two months in France amid growing fury over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad which were re-edited by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Further clashes and bombings were reported in the southern city of Avignon and the Saudi Arabian city of Djiddah on Thursday, but it was not immediately clear whether they were linked to the Nice attack.

Thursday’s assailant in Nice was injured by police and hospitalized after the murders at Notre-Dame Basilica, less than a kilometer (800 meters) from the site in 2016, where another attacker rammed a truck into a crowd of July 14, killing dozens of people.

The French anti-terrorism prosecution has opened an investigation into the Nice murders, which were the third attack since the September trial of 14 people linked to the January 2015 killings at Charlie Hebdo and in a kosher supermarket. The gunmen of the 2015 attacks claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group and to Al-Qaida.

Thursday’s attacker was said to have acted alone and police are not looking for other attackers, said two police officials, who were not authorized to be named publicly.

“He cried” Allah Akbar! “Over and over again, even after being injured,” said Nice mayor Christian Estrosi, who told BFM television that two women and a man were dead, two inside the church and a third who had fled to a nearby bar but was fatally injured. “The meaning of his gesture leaves no room for doubt. ”

French media showed the Nice neighborhood locked down and surrounded by police and emergency vehicles. Sounds of explosions could be heard when sappers detonated suspicious objects.

The lower house of parliament suspended a debate on France’s new virus restrictions and held a minute’s silence for the victims on Thursday. Prime Minister Jean Castex rushed from the room to a crisis center to monitor the consequences of the Nice attack. French President Emmanuel Macron was traveling to Nice later in the day.

In the southern city of Avignon later in the morning, a gunman was shot dead by police after refusing to drop his gun and a flash fire failed to stop him, an official said of the police. And a Saudi state news agency said a man stabbed a guard at the French consulate in Jiddah, injuring the guard before his arrest.

The French Council of the Muslim Faith condemned the Nice attack and called on French Muslims to refrain this week from the festivities marking the birth of Muhammad “as a sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims and their relatives”.

Islamic State extremists released a video on Wednesday renewing calls for attacks on France.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has strongly condemned the Nice attack.

We stand in solidarity with the French people against terror and violence, ”the statement said.

Relations between Turkey and France hit a new low after the Turkish president on Saturday accused Macron of Islamophobia over the cartoons and questioned his sanity, prompting Paris to recall its ambassador to Turkey for consultations .

The attack came less than two weeks after another assailant beheaded a French middle school teacher showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad for a course on freedom of expression. These cartoons were published by Charlie Hebdo and quoted by the men who shot down the newspaper’s editorial meeting in 2015.

In September, a man who had applied for asylum in France attacked passers-by in front of the former Charlie Hebdo offices with a butcher’s knife.

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Angela Charlton and Thomas Adamson contributed from Paris; Zeynep Bilginsoy has contributed from Istanbul.

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