He announced that the number of soldiers patrolling the streets will more than double in the coming days and expressed his support for the Catholic community.
Thursday morning’s attack came just 13 days after an 18-year-old man beheaded Samuel Paty, 47, a history teacher, outside his high school in northeast Paris. The professor had shown cartoons to students, including one of the Prophet Muhammad published in the satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, during a discussion on freedom of expression.
After Paty’s murder, Macron vowed to crack down on Islamist extremism, including shutting down mosques and other organizations accused of fomenting radicalism and violence. His comments sparked anger in the Muslim world; photos of the president were burned and calls for a boycott of French products were launched.
Macron also spoke on Thursday of the murder in 2016 of Father Jacques Hamel, a Catholic priest whose throat was cut by two men inside his Norman church.
“France is under attack,” said the president. “Three of our compatriots died today at the Basilica in Nice and at the same time a French consular site was attacked in Saudi Arabia.
“I want above all to express the nation’s support for Catholics in France and elsewhere. After 2016, with the assassination of Father Hamel, it is the Catholics of our country still under attack, and just before All Saints’ Day. We are at their side so that religion can be exercised freely in our country. People can believe or not believe, all religions can be practiced, but today the nation stands alongside our fellow Catholics.
“My second message is addressed to Nice and to the people of Nice who have already suffered from Islamist terrorist madness. This is the third time that terrorism has struck your city and you have the support and solidarity of the nation.
“If we have been attacked again, it is because of our values, our taste for freedom; the freedom to believe freely and not to give in to any terror. We will not give in to anything. Today, we have strengthened our security to face the terrorist threat. “
Macron said the French army was being mobilized to protect all places of worship, especially Catholic churches, for the religious holiday of Toussaint (Toussaint) on Sunday. The number of soldiers in the streets is to be increased from 3,000 to 7,000 and troops will be deployed outside schools for the return to class on Monday.
The state attorney was due to give details of Thursday morning’s attack at a press conference later, the president said.
He added, “Our absolute resolve in the face of these acts will continue and we will protect all of our citizens. In response, my message is a message of absolute firmness and unity. There is only one community in France, the national community.
“All of you, whatever your religion, whether you believe it or not, must unite and not give in to a spirit of division. All citizens are deeply shocked and shaken by what has happened.
He concluded: “Firmness and unity are our line today and this is the line we will follow tomorrow.”
The Nice attack happened at 9 a.m. on Thursday inside the Notre-Dame basilica in the city center.
One of the victims is said to be a 70-year-old woman beheaded in the church. A man, believed to be the head of the church, was the second victim. A woman in her 40s was seriously injured and managed to flee the church but died of her injuries.
Police described the scene as a “sight of horror”. The national counterterrorism prosecutor said that an investigation had been opened into “murders linked to a terrorist organization”.
The assailant was shot in the shoulder by police at around 9:10 a.m. and taken to hospital. He did not have any identity papers with him, but he was reportedly a 21-year-old Tunisian national who arrived in France via Lampedusa, Italy, in early October. Police say they are checking the name he gave.
The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, said the man had said “Allahu Akbar” several times during his arrest by the police.
He said that one of the female victims was “beheaded” but he had no details of how the other two were killed.
“We have two people killed inside the church … and a third person who was in a bar opposite the church where she had taken refuge,” Estrosi said. “Enough is enough … we must eliminate this Islamo-fascism from our territory.”
Also on Thursday, it was reported that a man carrying a knife and threatening passers-by in rue d’Avignon was shot dead by police. The shooting took place at 11:15 a.m., just over two hours after the attack on Nice. Police opened fire after the man allegedly threatened them.
A witness to the Nice attack, a man named David who runs the Brioche Chaude restaurant opposite the church, told BFMTV he alerted the police.
“I was selling croissants when a man came in and said, ‘Sir, there is a beheaded woman in the cathedral.’ I didn’t believe him at first but he repeated it. I went to the cathedral and saw the municipal police and called them. They came quickly.
” I returned [to the restaurant] and lowered the safety gate.
He added: “The person who entered [to the restaurant] was someone who had been in the cathedral who was very shocked. He just said, “Sir, there is a beheaded woman in the cathedral. ” That’s all. I was shocked. I’m still shaking.
The police immediately locked the city center.
They took the attacker’s fingerprints to determine if he was known to security services. Officers also review CCTV recordings to establish his movements in advance. Nice is one of the few French cities to have a vast network of video surveillance.
David-Olivier Reverdy, of the French police union Alliance Police Nationale, said security forces had warned of an “increased terrorist threat” in recent days, but that it was impossible to have officers everywhere to prevent the attacks.
“We have to recognize that police, municipal and national, were quickly on the scene and were able to incapacitate the individual before he could cause further injury or death,” Reverdy said.
The French Muslim Council (French Muslim Council, CFCM) condemned Thursday’s attack and called on Muslims to cancel their Mawlid celebrations – from October 28 to 29 to mark the birth of the Prophet – as a “sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims and their relatives”.
Estrosi declared that all of Nice were deeply shocked: “Before being a school teacher, this time the Islamo-fascist barbarism chose to attack inside a church. Again, it’s very symbolic, ”added Estrosi.
Also Thursday, the Le Progrès newspaper reported that a man in “traditional Afghan clothes” carrying a knife was arrested in Lyon, and a Saudi was arrested in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after injuring a guard at the French consulate with a “sharp tool”, Reported public television.