Knife attack priest was 84 year old “treasured by the community”
A priest has died from a slashed throat after two knifemen burst into a church as he celebrated Mass, in what appears to be the latest in a string of terror attacks in France.
Two men, believed to be the assailants, held members of the congregation hostage for an hour before being shot dead by police after emerging on to the courtyard of the church in Normandy, according to local reports.
The priest is Jacques Hamel, aged 84.
Police sources were quoted as saying that at least one of the two hostage-takers was bearded and was wearing a skullcap of the kind worn by some Muslims.
French president Francois Hollande and interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve are on their way to the scene.
The French government said one hostage was killed and another seriously injured.
One member of the congregation – made up of two nuns and two worshippers – was said to be seriously injured.
The hostage-takers entered the church armed with knives shortly before 10am local time (9am UK time), said French media sources.
As the situation developed, officers from the elite anti-terrorist Raid squad were called in to assist local police.
A number of shots were heard over a period of around 15 seconds as the incident came to an end around 40 minutes later.
Anti-terrorist authorities in Paris have opened an inquiry into the hostage-taking.
Eulalie Garcia, who works in a beauty parlour, is on the same road as the church, and told reporters that she knew the 92-year-old priest, who had taught her the catechism as a young girl.
“My family has lived here for 35 years and we have always known him,” she said. “He was someone who was treasured by the community. He was very discreet and didn’t like to draw attention to himself.”
She said she was very shocked by the death of the priest, who lived opposite his church. “It can happen to anyone,” she said.
The area around the church remained cordoned off and the old town was out of bounds.
A spokesman for the ministry of the interior, Pierre-Henry Brandet, confirmed that the priest was dead and said another hostage was “between life and death”.
Mr Brandet told French TV channel BFMTV: “The two hostage-takers came out of the church armed and it was at that point that they were neutralised by the police.”
National Front leader Marine le Pen said: “More horror at Saint Etienne du Rouvray. The modus operandi obviously leads one to fear a new attack by Islamist terrorists.”
French newspaper Le Figaro reported that the church was suspected to have been on a list of Catholic places of worship in the area around Paris drawn up as possible targets by Sid Ahmed Ghlam, an Algerian student arrested last year on suspicion of murdering a mother-of-one during a botched attempt to attack a church in Villejuif.