By Emily Drooby and Paula Katinas
WINDSOR TERRACE — Three people were killed by a knife-wielding attacker in a basilica in Nice, France on the morning of Oct. 29 in what the mayor of that city called a terrorist attack.
Christian Estrosi, the mayor of Nice, said in a video posted on Twitter: “I confirm that everything suggests a terrorist attack in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice.”
Je suis sur place avec la @PoliceNat06 et la @pmdenice qui a interpellé l’auteur de l’attaque. Je confirme que tout laisse supposer à un attentat terroriste au sein de la basilique Notre-Dame de #Nice06. pic.twitter.com/VmpDqRwzB1
— Christian Estrosi (@cestrosi) October 29, 2020
The attack took place at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice at around 9 a.m. local time.
One of the victims, an elderly woman, was nearly beheaded by the attacker.
The suspect was identified later that same day by French authorities as Brahim Aoussaoul, a 21-year-old Tunisian man who came to France in early October. He allegedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” before and after he stabbed the victims.
The suspect was shot by police and was then taken into custody.
In addition to the elderly woman, two other victims died in the attack. The body of a man identified as the sacristan was found inside of the basilica and a woman who was stabbed by the attacker ran into a local cafe, where she was pronounced dead.
Father Paul Anel, administrator of the Parish of St. Paul & St. Agnes, Cobble Hill, is French, and as soon as he heard about the attack, he called relatives and friends in his home country to check in with them.
“The spirits are very low,” he told The Tablet. The attack was “quite a blow for the country.”
The basilica is “a public place, a place of worship,” Father Anel said while adding that it is horrific that a knife-wielding attacker struck there.
The best response to the violence, he said, is to “carry our country in our prayers” and that “there is no better way to do this than to celebrate the Eucharist.”
Father Anel, who celebrates a Mass in French every Sunday at 11 a.m. at St. Paul’s Church, said he will ask his parishioners to remember the victims in their prayers.
While France has grown more and more secular in recent decades, religion is still important there, according to Father Anel, who recalled the public outpouring of sorrow in the wake of the fire that ripped through Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 2019.
“The whole country was struck in the heart,” he said.
I am close to the Catholic community of #Nice, mourning the attack that sowed death in a place of prayer and consolation. I pray for the victims, for their families and for the beloved French people, that they may respond to evil with good.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) October 29, 2020
The attack at Basilica de Notre Dame of Nice took place just days after Samuel Paty, a middle-school teacher in Paris, was beheaded by a terrorist incident on Oct. 16. Paty had shown his class controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that had been published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. On Jan. 7, 2015, two gunmen stormed the newspaper’s office in Paris and opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring 11 others.
“It looks like for at least one of the victims, inside the church, it was the same method as for the poor professor of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine a few days ago, that is absolute horror,” Estrosi said in the video.
Charlie Hebdo recently sparked a new controversy when it published a cartoon that many Muslims charged was offensive. It depicted Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and a woman wearing a hijab.
Bishop André Marceau of Nice said that all churches in that city would remain closed and under police protection for the time being.
“[Pope Francis] is praying for the victims and their loved ones, for the violence to cease, for people to look at each other again as brothers and sisters and not as enemies, so that the beloved French people, united, can respond to evil with good,” Matteo Brunihe, a spokesman for the Holy See, said in a statement.
“It is a time of pain, in a time of confusion. Terrorism and violence can never be accepted. Today’s attack sowed death in a place of love and consolation, as the house of the Lord,” the statement continued.
Bishops across France requested churches in that country toll their bells at 3 p.m. local time in memory of the victims.
“The murders perpetrated this morning in Nice in the Basilica of Notre-Dame plunge the French bishops’ conference into immense sadness,” a joint statement from the bishops read. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, the injured, their families, and loved ones. It is because they were in the basilica that these people were attacked, murdered. They were a symbol to be slaughtered.”