Knifemen take hostages in French church

At least two attackers take hostages in church in northern France. Hostage-takers killed by police SWAT team.

Tags: France
Ari Soffer , | updated: 12:54 PM

Church (illustrative)
Church (illustrative)

Two men armed with knives took a number of hostages in a church located near Rouen in northern France, murdering one victim before they were eliminated by armed police.

The identities of the knifemen and their motives are not known at this stage, but the course of the investigation thus far indicates the incident was likely an Islamist terror attack.

According to Reuters, police said that five people were held hostage at the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray church in Normandy.

France 3 news network identified a priest, two nuns and at least two worshipers as among those held captive.

France's Le Figaro reports that the attackers murdered the 83-year-old priest by slitting his throat as he conducted mass. Le Point cites witnesses saying they heard the men shout "Daesh" - Arabic for ISIS - as they launched their attack. This report has been questioned, as pro-ISIS people don't usually refer to the Islamic State as "Daesh."

The murdered priest has been named locally as Jacques Hamel. He was 84 years old.

A police SWAT team arrived at the scene shortly after and shot the two attackers dead.

Police confirmed to Reuters that one hostage was killed "with a blade", though they did not give any further details. One other person is reportedly "hovering between life and death".

Police sniffer dogs were then sent in to the church in search of possible explosive devices planted by the knifemen. The French Interior Ministry then confirmed that the church grounds are being swept for additional explosive devices.

It is the latest violent attack in Europe in recent weeks, after a series of stabbing incidents, a deadly shooting and a suicide bombing in nearby Germany.

Most of those incidents were carried out by Muslim terrorists inspired by ISIS. There is no word as yet on the identity of the latest attackers, but French authorities have handed the case to the anti-terrorism prosecutor, indicating they were indeed Islamist terrorists.

It also comes just a few weeks after a deadly terror attack in the French city of Nice, in which a jihadist terrorist plowed a truck into a crowd of people, killing more than 80. A state of emergency is still in place after that attack.

Unlike in that incident, as well as recent attacks in Germany, this latest attack appears to have been more organized, given that two assailants were involved.

France has been rocked by a string of Islamist terror attacks of late, and pressure is building on the embattled government of Francois Hollande to take effective action to curb the attacks.

President Hollande has arrived at the scene of the attack in Normandy.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed his "horror" at the "barbaric attack on a church."

The Vatican has released a statement condemning the "barbarous killing" of a priest in a church.