Posted: 27 July, 2016
Father Jacques Hamel was giving morning Mass when the attackers stormed his church Photo: AFP
Assailants loyal to Islamic State forced an elderly priest to his knees before slitting his throat and took several worshippers hostage in a French church.
It was the latest in a wave of attacks in Europe inspired by the Islamist militant group based in Iraq and Syria that is on the defensive against a US-led military coalition in which France is a major partner.
The men entered the church on Tuesday during morning mass near the northern city of Rouen, killing Father Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old parish priest, and taking four other people hostage, one of whom was seriously wounded.
"They forced him to his knees and he tried to defend himself and that's when the drama began," Sister Danielle, who escaped as the attackers slayed the priest.
"They filmed themselves. It was like a sermon in Arabic around the altar," the nun added.
Police shot the attackers dead as they emerged from the church in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.
Special police forces raided a house in the town after the attack Photo: Reuters
Speaking at the scene of the attack, President Francois Hollande said Islamic State had declared war on France, which should "use all its means" within the law to fight the group.
News agency Amaq, which is affiliated with Islamic State, said two of its "soldiers" were involved.
The White House condemned the attack and commended the French police for their "quick and decisive response".
The anti-terrorist unit of the Paris prosecutor's office is investigating the attack. Police said one person had been arrested.
Adel Kermiche, pictured here in 2011, has been identified as one of the church attackers Photo: Facebook
Several French media reported that one of the knifemen was a local man who had spent a year in jail on his return from Turkey after being intercepted trying to travel to Syria, but had been freed on bail with an electronic tag pending trial for alleged terrorism offences.
The prosecutor's office said the identification of the two suspects was still underway and it was too early to jump to conclusions about a possible link.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is expected to enter a conservative primary soon for next year's presidential election, jumped on the latest incident to accuse the Socialist government of being soft on terrorism.
"We must be merciless," Sarkozy said in a statement to reporters.
Pope Francis condemned what he called a "barbarous killing".
A Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly has weighed into the killing saying the attack is akin to "total war"
"When they violate the sanctity of a church, attacking and beheading an 85 year-old priest while he is celebrating mass - we will now realise that appeasement never works and this is total war," Mr Kelly wrote.