An attacker with a knife killed at least three people and wounded several others at a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday, officials said, in an incident the city’s mayor described as “terrorism”.
Mayor Christian Estrosi, a former MP with the right-wing Republicans party, said on Twitter that police had detained the attacker.
Estrosi tweeted: “I can confirm everything suggests this was a terror attack in the Notre-Dame Basilica,” in central Nice.
He claimed that two women and one man were dead. One woman took refuge in a nearby bar where she succumbed to her injuries. The other was killed in the most “horrible” way, he said, “like the professor” – an apparent reference to the recent attack on French teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded in broad daylight.
The anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office said an investigation had been opened into an attack with a terrorist connection.
Meanwhile, the lower house of parliament suspended a debate on new coronavirus restrictions – the country will go into a fresh lockdown on Friday, and held a moment of silence for the victims.
Thursday’s attack comes while France is still reeling from the killing of Paty, by a man of Chechen origin.
The attacker had said he wanted to punish Paty for showing pupils caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a civics lesson.
In a comment on recent beheadings in France, the Kremlin said on Thursday it was unacceptable to kill people, but also wrong to insult the feelings of religious believers.
It was not immediately clear what the motive was for the Nice attack, or if there was any connection to the cartoons, which Muslims consider deeply offensive.
Since Paty’s killing, French officials – backed by many citizens – have re-asserted the right to display the cartoons, and the images have been widely displayed at marches in solidarity with the slain teacher.
That has prompted an outpouring of anger in parts of the Muslim world, with some governments accusing French leader Emmanuel Macron of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda. Muslims deeply revere the Prophet and find the caricatures, which often link Islam to “terrorism”, offensive.