Catholics and Muslims condemn terrorists' murder of Catholic priest at a church in northern France
The terrorist organization calling itself Islamic State (IS) has taken responsibility for yesterday's murder of a priest at a church in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a town near Rouen in northern France. Through its Amaq press agency, IS announced that two of its "soldiers" committed the crime.
The attackers, armed with knives, took five hostages at the church during mass before being shot dead by police. One of the two attackers, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, had been released from custody in March by a judge after spending 10 months in prison for attempting to enter Syria more than once - he was supposed to have been serving the rest of his sentence under house arrest.
According to the French newspaper Le Monde, Kermiche first came to the attention of the authorities at the age of six and had been hospitalized several times for psychological problems. During many interviews with officials he had claimed to espouse the value of mercy in Islam.
Paris Prosecutor François Molins said Kermiche had attempted to enter Syria twice using fake identification documents. The identity of the second assailant has not yet been released.
Judge says Kermiche showed a desire to return to society
Kermiche made a second failed attempt to travel to Syria in May 2015, was arrested in Turkey, and then remanded into custody by French authorities, where he remained until March of this year on suspicion of criminal association and maintaining ties with a terrorist organization. He shared a cell with a Saudi Arabian and got to know a Frenchman who had spent 18 months with various sections of the so-called Islamic State.
Kermiche is said to have had a difficult time in detention and to have told detectives that he regretted his attempts to go to Syria. "I want to live again, to return to my friends, to get married," he reportedly told them.
The judge who ultimately decided to release him with an electronic bracelet to track his whereabouts justified his decision by saying Kermiche was "aware of his errors", that he had "suicidal tendencies in custody", that he was showing signs of wanting to return to society, and that his family would be able to aid him with that. Kermiche was released with the monitoring device to live at his parents' home in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.
The conditions of his house arrest were that he was not permitted to leave the district, that he had to attend psychological counseling, and that he could only leave the house between 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM. He perpetrated his murder during that time slot yesterday.
Attack during morning mass
The two terrorists burst into the church after 9 AM and took six hostages: the priest, three nuns, and two parishioners. One of the nuns managed to flee and raise the alarm with security forces.
One of the terrorists was wearing a fake suicide belt, while the other was holding a kitchen timer wrapped in aluminum foil and wearing a backpack with a fake bomb on it. The armed men forced the 86-year old local priest to kneel and then slit his throat.
The nun who managed to escape the church told the French television station BFM that the terrorists had forced the hostages to film their crime. As part of the attempt to identify the second attacker, a 17-year-old youth originally from Algeria was arrested yesterday evening.
French media reported that the person arrested was the younger brother of the man who had left to join radicals in Iraq and Syria in March of 2015, carrying documents in the name of Adel Kermiche. Several locations in Normandy are now being searched as part of the investigation.
Hollande: The radicals want to destroy French democracy
"They undertook this operation in response to the challenge to attack the countries of the Crusader coalition," the Amaq agency said of the perpetrators of yesterday's murder. The so-called Islamic State has repeatedly called on its adherents to carry out assassinations in countries that have joined the fight against its positions in Iraq and Syria.
French President François Hollande attributed the crime to the so-called Islamic State just before the group asserted responsibility for it. Hollande said Paris is at war with the group and will combat terrorists using every means possible, not just in Iraq and Syria, but also when combating "jihadists, extremists and terrorists" inside France.
"I must tell you the truth: This war will last a long time. However, I assure you we will win it," the French President declared.
A state of emergency is still in place in France because of the terrorist attacks that have hit the country in recent months; prior to yesterday's murder, the most recent of those attacks happened two weeks ago, when an assailant drove a truck into a crowd of people in Nice, killing 84. According to experts, what lies behind the attacks in France is the country's peculiar migration policies and the discrimination felt by people with different (non-French) roots who live there.
French troops are also visibly engaged in combating Islamists in the Middle East. The French are massively involved in coalition airstrikes and Hollande recently said he would be deploying the elite aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Mediterranean once more; his earlier deployments of troops to the Central African Republic or Mali are also well-known.
Pope Francis condemns the violence
Cardinal Dominik Duka, the Archbishop of Prague and the highest representative of the Catholic Curch in the Czech Republic, condemned yesterday's attack. "I am praying for the believers at the morning worship service, for their health and lives," Duka posted to his website.
The Vatican also condemned the attack, calling it a barbaric act, with Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi saying the Vatican is aghast at what happened and condemns all forms of hatred. "We are exceptionally shocked because this horrible violence happened in a church where God's love is proclaimed," Lombardi said.
Muslims in Prague condemn the attack on the church in France
The Islamic Foundation in Prague, Czech Republic issued a statement on the attack yesterday: "In the past we have thoroughly condemned violence perpetrated against innocent populations. Today, after the brutal murder of the French Catholic priest Jacques Hamel, we cannot find the words we need to condemn, as thoroughly as possible, such a shameful act, which violates all earthly and spiritual laws. We condemn this murder and we are praying for his soul. With great pain in our souls we express our sincere condolences to our Catholic friends and to the family," the organization posted to its website.
Local residents told the media that Father Hamel was 86 years old at the time of his death and had served at the local church for decades. "He was always very discreet, humble, and didn't like to have any fuss made over him," a local resident told the BBC.
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