PARIS–Tensions have not abated in France since the killing of three people at a church in southern France in what President Emmanuel Macron called an “Islamist terrorist attack.”
France’s interior minister said on Friday more terrorist attacks on its soil were likely and the country was engaged in “a war against Islamist ideology” following the second deadly knife attack in its cities in two weeks.
“We are in a war against an enemy that is both inside and outside,” Damarnin told RTL radio. “We need to understand that there have been and there will be other events such as these terrible attacks.”
A Tunisian security source and a French police source named the suspect as Brahim Aouissaoui.
A judicial source said on Friday that a 47-year-old man had been also taken into custody on Thursday evening on suspicion of having been in contact with the perpetrator of the attack.
In a near half-hour frenzy in the Notre-Dame basilica in the centre of Nice, the assailant used a knife of 30 centimetres to kill a 60-year-old woman, a 55-year-old church employee and a 44-year-old. Two of the terror victims had their throats slit.
The 21-year-old Tunisian illegal migrant shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) when approached by police who shot and seriously wounded him, France’s anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard told a press conference.
The victims were “people targeted for the sole reason that they were present in this church at that moment,” said Ricard.
The attack, he added, was a reminder that “the deadly ideology of Islamist terrorism is very much alive”.
Ricard said the attacker was a Tunisian, born in 1999, who had arrived in Italy on September 20, and then in France on October 9.
In a bag he had left at the scene, investigators found two unused knives, and the prosecutor said police who shot him had “without any doubt prevented an even higher toll.”
The killings, which occurred ahead of the Catholic holy day of All Saints Day on Sunday, prompted the government to raise the terror alert level to the maximum “emergency” level nationwide. The attack also coincided with Muslims’ celebration of Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.
Macron, who quickly travelled to Nice, announced increased surveillance of churches by France’s Sentinelle military patrols, to be bolstered to 7,000 troops from 3,000.
Security at schools would also be boosted, he said.
“Quite clearly, it is France that is being attacked,” the president added, vowing the country “will not give up on our values”.
In Nice, painful memories remain fresh of terror attack during Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, 2016, when a man rammed his truck into a crowded promenade, killing 86 people.
France has been on high alert since the January 2015 massacre at the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo marked the beginning of a wave of Islamic extremist attacks that have killed more than 250 people.
Tensions have heightened since last month, when the trial opened for 14 suspected accomplices in that attack.
The paper marked the start of the court proceedings by republishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that infuriated Muslims worldwide — the same caricatures that teacher Samuel Paty used as lesson material.
Days after the trial opened, an 18-year-old man from Pakistan seriously injured two people with a meat cleaver outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices in Paris.
France has been the target of widespread anger in the Islamic world after Macron vowed to take the fight to Islamism in France and talked of “a crisis within Islam,” after the October 16 beheading of a history teacher by an extremist for having shown pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a free speech lesson.
Several groups in Muslim-majority countries have launched campaigns to boycott French products, while protesters burnt the French flag and posters of Macron as demonstrations were held in Syria, Libya, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories.
Macron on Thursday urged people of all religions to unite and not “give in to the spirit of division”.
After Thursday’s attack, Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad tweeted that “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past”.
Twitter later deleted his post.
Thursday also saw a Saudi citizen wound a guard in a knife attack at the French consulate in Jeddah while police in the French city of Lyon said they had arrested an Afghan spotted carrying a knife while trying to board a tram.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian proffered “a message of peace to the Muslim world” Thursday, insisting France was a “country of tolerance.”
Abdallah Zekri, director general of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) denounced Thursday’s attack and urged French Muslims to cancel festivities to mark the Mawlid, or the Prophet’s birthday, which ends Thursday, “in solidarity with the victims and their loved ones.”
The domestic fury over the attacks is however seen by analysts as pressuring France’s estimated five to six million Muslims — the largest community in Europe.