PARIS / NICE, France (Reuters) – France beefed up security across the country on Friday to guard against Islamist attacks after fatal stabbings at a church in Nice, as protests erupted in parts of the Middle -Orient, Asia and Africa because of the French caricatures of the prophet Mohammad.
President Emmanuel Macron has deployed thousands of troops to protect sites, including places of worship and schools, and the nation was on its highest level of security alert after the second deadly knife attack in its cities in two weeks .
Police detained a 21-year-old Tunisian migrant, identified by a French police source and Tunisian officials as Brahim al-Aouissaoui, during the attack in which a man shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest ) beheaded a woman and killed two. other people in the Notre-Dame basilica in Nice on Thursday.
The attack took place at a time of growing anger among Muslims in many countries over the issue of French caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which they find insulting and blasphemous.
It happened almost two weeks after Samuel Paty, a schoolteacher in the Paris suburbs, was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen. Paty had shown his students such cartoons in a free speech class.
France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim community and hit by a series of militant attacks in recent years, has defended the right to publish such cartoons. Macron insisted that France would not compromise its fundamental freedoms of belief and expression.
In Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Palestinian territories, tens of thousands of Muslims staged anti-French protests after Friday prayers.
In Islamabad, police briefly fired tear gas at protesters who had passed through security checkpoints in an unsuccessful attempt to demonstrate at the French embassy.
In Bangladesh, demonstrators in the capital Dhaka chanted “Boycott French products” and brandished banners calling Macron “the world’s greatest terrorist”. Some burnt effigies of the French president.
“Macron leads Islamophobia,” said Dhaka protester Akramul Haq. “The Muslim world will not let this go in vain. We will stand up and stand in solidarity against him.
Demonstrations also took place in India, Lebanon and Somalia.
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Interior Minister Gerald Damarnin said France was engaged in a war against Islamist ideology and further attacks on its soil were likely. “We are in a war against an enemy that is both inside and outside,” he told RTL radio.
Nice police chief Richard Gianotti said any symbol of the republic or Christianity was a potential target. “We have to be vigilant, we have to be careful,” he told Reuters.
French embassies have also been asked to strengthen security.
Police used a Taser and rubber bullets on Friday to subdue a man in Paris when he threatened officers with two knives after challenging him. The motive was not immediately clear.
In Nice, residents mourned the victims of what was the second attack in the Mediterranean city in recent years. In July 2016, an activist drove a truck through a seaside crowd to celebrate July 14, killing 86 people.
People gathered in front of Notre-Dame Church to lay flowers and light candles.
“I am from Nice and it is once again a tragedy,” said Frédéric Lefèvre, 50, who was wearing a French national rugby jersey.
“We are a free country. Love freedom – this is a message to the world. No god should kill, ”he said.
French counterterrorism chief prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said the suspect was a Tunisian born in 1999 who arrived in Europe on September 20 at Lampedusa, the Italian island off the coast of Tunisia which is a main landing point for migrants from Africa.
He arrived in Nice by train Thursday morning and went to church, where he stabbed and killed the 55-year-old sacristan and beheaded a 60-year-old woman.
He also stabbed a 44-year-old woman, who fled to a nearby cafe where she sounded the alarm before she died, Ricard said.
The police then arrived and shot him dead.
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The woman who died after sounding the alarm has been identified as the mother of three, Simone Barreto Silva, who left Brazil for France as a teenager.
“She crossed the road, covered in blood,” says Brahim Jelloule, manager of the Unik café. “She was still talking, she was saying that there was someone inside (the church),” Jelloule told France Television.
Notre-Dame parish treasurer Jean-François Gourdon told Reuters he worked in the church with sacristan Vincent Loques, but left shortly before the attacker arrived.
The sacristan, he says, “was very honest, he was at the service of everyone, in a good mood, liked to joke.
In the Tunisian town of Sfax, Aouissaoui’s family said he spoke to them during a video call outside the church hours before the attack. He had shown no signs that he had planned violence, they said.
Aouissaoui had gone there in search of a place to sleep, his sister Afef said.
Family members told Reuters that they were shocked that he had committed such a violent crime.
“My brother is a nice person and has never been extremist,” said his older brother Yassin. “He respected all other people and accepted their differences even since he was a child.”