France raises security threat level to highest after Nice attack

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France has raised the security alert for French territory to the highest level after the knife attack in the city of Nice, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.

Castex also told French National Assembly that the government’s response to the attack would be firm and implacable.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that he would be stepping up the deployment of soldiers to protect key French sites, such as places of worship and schools, following the fatal knife attack in Nice earlier in the day.

French police officers secure the street near the entrance of the Notre Dame Basilica church in Nice, France, 29 October 2020, following a knife attack. EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER

Speaking outside the church, Macron said France had been attacked “over our values, for our taste for freedom, for the ability on our soil to have freedom of belief … And I say it with great clarity again today: We will not give any ground.”

The attack came just under two weeks after a middle-school teacher in a Paris suburb was beheaded by an 18-year-old attacker who was apparently incensed by the teacher showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in class.

Nice killer landed at Lampedusa

Chief anti-terrorist prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said the suspect in Thursday’s attack was a Tunisian man born in 1999 who had arrived in Europe on Sept. 20 in Lampedusa, the Italian island off Tunisia that is the main landing point for migrants from Africa.

A Tunisian security source and a French police source named the suspect as Brahim Aouissaoui. The suspect is in hospital in critical condition, he said.

Ricard told a news conference in Nice that the man had entered the city by train early on Thursday morning and made his way to the church, where he stabbed and killed the 55-year-old sexton and beheaded a 60-year-old woman.

Young people light candles near the entrance of the Notre Dame Basilica church in Nice, France, 29 October 2020, following a knife attack. EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER

Another Tunisian, Anis Amri, arrived at Lampedusa as a minor in 2011 and went on to kill 12 people in a truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market in 2016.

Tunisia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the latest Nice attack and a branch of the judiciary said it has opened an investigation into the suspect.

Lampedusa is only 130 km (80 miles) from the Tunisian coast and young Tunisians living in port towns have told Reuters of a constant temptation to board the ever-present boats departing at night and seek their fortunes in prosperous Europe.

Tunisia’s specialised counter-militancy court spokesman Mohsen Dali told Reuters that Aouissaoui was not listed by police there as a suspected militant.

He said Aouissaoui left the country on Sept. 14 by boat, adding that Tunisia had begun its own forensic investigation into the case.

Shocked” EU leaders condemn terror attacks in France – statement

European Union leaders said they were “shocked” by attacks in France in which three people were killed on Thursday by a man shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest).

In a joint statement they said the killings were “terrorist attacks” and showed their solidarity with France.

“We call on leaders around the world to work towards dialogue and understanding among communities and religions rather than division,” they said at the beginning of a video conference in which they will discuss the COVID-19 health emergency in Europe.

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