Tearful mayor seeks unity after France attack

Francois Mori
Police officers conduct a search in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy, France, following an attack on a church that left a priest dead, Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (Associated Press) 

PARIS (AP) — The Latest on the hostage-taking in the French region of Normandy. (all times local):

6:20 p.m.

A French mayor whose town church was attacked by Islamic State extremists is tearfully pleading for unity and courage against barbarism.

Hubert Wulfranc, a history teacher who is also the mayor of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, struggled to keep himself together as he spoke to reporters Tuesday, hours after two attackers slit the throat of a priest celebrating Mass. The attackers were killed by police.

Wulfranc said it’s time to end the violence that has shaken France in recent years, adding: “Let us, together, be the last ones to cry.”

“Let us together … stand up against barbarism.”

A somber quiet surrounded the area. The small town is composed of very residential neighborhoods and livelier, working-class neighborhoods with massive apartment blocks.

Priest Alexandre Joly, who knew the slain priest, said “If we are afraid, they have won. They must not win. Our response will be to pray. We must not enter in the game of fear, of rejection.”


5:35 p.m.

The United States is condemning in the “strongest possible terms” an attack on a French church that left its 86-year-old priest dead.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, which was carried out by two individuals who were shot and killed by police.

White House spokesman Ned Price says France and the United States are committed to protecting religious liberty for all faiths. He says that commitment will not waver because of Tuesday’s attack in the small northwestern town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

Price also commended what he said was the “quick and decisive response” by French law enforcement.


5:10 p.m.

A nun who was in the church during Tuesday’s attack said the 86-year-old priest was forced to the ground before his throat was slit.

“They forced him to his knees. He wanted to defend himself. And that’s when the tragedy happened,” said the nun, identified as Sister Danielle.

“They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar, in Arabic. It’s a horror,” she told BFM television.

Of her fallen colleague, she said: “He was a great priest.”


4:10 p.m.

An Italian politician is urging Pope Francis to put the slain French priest, the Rev. Jacque Hamel, on a fast track for sainthood.

Roberto Maroni, the president of the Lombard region, said in an appeal circulated on social media that “Father Jacques is a martyr of faith” and requested that the pope “immediately proclaim him St. Jacques.”

Shortly after the appeal, the hashtage #santosubito, which translates as “saint immediately,” began circulating on Twitter.

The canonization process is a lengthy one involving two miracles attributed to the person’s intercession, but in the case of a martyr only one miracle is needed, after beatification. There must first be a declaration by the Vatican that the person indeed died for the faith.


3:50 p.m.

Ireland’s prime minister says it is “particularly brutal” that people have been attacked in a church, a traditional place of sanctuary.

Enda Kenny says the killing of a priest by knife-wielding attackers in France’s Normandy region is especially awful because “terror and murder have been visited upon innocent people at a time when they have been so physically vulnerable and so spiritually hopeful.”

Kenny spoke in London after a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May. May called the attack “sickening” and sent condolences to the people of France.


3:40 p.m.

The Paris prosecutor’s office says one person has been detained in the investigation into an attack on a church that left a priest dead and was claimed by the Islamic State group.

Prosecutor’s office spokeswoman said the person was detained Tuesday, but gave no details on the identity or location. The spokeswoman spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

The Paris prosecutor’s office oversees investigations involving terrorism.

Two attackers took hostages in a church in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray during morning Mass, slitting the priest’s throat before being killed by police. Authorities are trying to determine whether they had accomplices.


3:30 p.m.

A resident of St.-Etienne-du-Rouvray says had heard shots fired for about 30 seconds after police responded to an attack inside the local church

Claude-Albert Seguin, a 68-year-old pensioner, told The Associated Press that he knew the priest who was killed in the attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

Seguin says, “everyone knew him very well. He was very loved in the community and a kind man.”

Seguin said that police told all neighbors to shutter their windows, and he was following the progress of events on television news.


2:25 p.m.

A local Muslim leader says one of the men who attacked a Normandy church was on French police radar and had traveled to Turkey.

Mohammed Karabila, president of the Regional Council of the Muslim Faith for Haute-Normandie and head of the local Muslim cultural center, told The Associated Press that “the person that did this odious act is known, and he has been followed by the police for at least a year and a half.”

He said the attacker “went to Turkey and security services were alerted after this.” He had no information about the second attacker.

Karabila said he hoped that interfaith dialogue in his region would not be damaged.

The attackers slit the throat of an 84-year-old priest before being killed by police. Their identities have not been released.


2:20 p.m.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the latest attack in France in which two attackers invaded a church and killed an 84-year-old priest before being shot and killed by police.

The claim came in a statement published Tuesday by the IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency.

It said the attack near the Normandy city of Rouen was carried out by “two soldiers of the Islamic State.”

It added the attack was in response to its calls to target countries of the U.S.-led coalition which is fighting IS.


1:50 p.m.

French President Francois Hollande is suggesting that the Islamic State group is behind an attack on a church that left an 84-year-old priest dead.

Hollande called it a “vile terrorist attack” and said it’s another more sign that France is at war with IS, which has claimed a string of attacks on France.

“We must lead this war with all our means,” he said in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, where two attackers took hostages on Tuesday before being killed by police.

Hollande expressed support for all France’s Catholics but said the attack targets “all the French.”

The identities of Tuesday’s attackers are unclear.


1:45 p.m.

Pope Francis has condemned in the strongest terms the attack on a Roman Catholic church in northern Francethat left a priest dead and a worshipper critically wounded.

Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in a statement Tuesday that the attack hits particularly hard “because this horrific violence took place in a church, a sacred place in which the love of God is announced, and the barbaric murder of a priest and the involvement of the faithful.”

Lombardi called the attack “more terrible news, that adds to a series of violence in these days that have left us upset, creating immense pain and worry.”

The pope, he said, has expressed “pain and horror for this absurd violence, with the strongest condemnation for every form of hatred and prayer for those affected.”

The Vatican expressed its closeness to the Roman Catholic Church in France and the Archdiocese of Rouen, as well as to the affected communities and the people of France.


1:10 p.m.

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen has confirmed the identity of the priest who was slain by two attackers at a church in northwest France.

He says 84-year-old Father Jacques Hamel was killed Tuesday. Police say two attackers entered his church in the small Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, slit his throat and took hostages before being shot dead by police.

In a statement from Krakow, Poland, where Pope Francis was visiting, Lebrun says “I cry out to God, with all men of good will. And I invite all non-believers to unite with this cry … The Catholic Church has no other arms besides prayer and fraternity between men.”


11:10 a.m.

Two attackers seized hostages Tuesday in a church near the Normandy city of Rouen, killing a priest by slitting his throat before being shot and killed by police, French officials said.

Another person inside the church was seriously injured and is hovering between life and death, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.

Police managed to rescue three people from the church in the small northwestern town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Brandet said. The hostage-taking occurred during morning Mass, he told reporters.

The identities of the attackers and motive for the attack are unclear, according to a security official, who was not authorized to be publicly named.

French President Francois Hollande and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve were heading to the town.

Brandet, speaking on BFM TV, said the RAID special intervention force was searching the church and its perimeter for possible explosives and terrorism investigators had been summoned.

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