A priest has been ‘beheaded’ by two ISIS knifemen who cut his throat after bursting into a French church and taking nuns and worshippers hostage before being shot dead by police.
Five people including the 86-year-old priest, two nuns and two parishioners were held by assailants who raided the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy during morning mass at 9am.
The clergyman, named as Jacques Hamel, is believed to have been beheaded during the attack while another hostage is fighting for life in hospital.
The two attackers were “neutralised” by marksmen as they emerged from the building, which is now being searched for explosives. French president, Francois Hollande, said the men “claimed to be from” ISIS while the terror group has claimed responsibility through its news agency.
There were reports the attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar” as they ran out of the church while at least one of the men was dressed in Islamic clothing.
It comes as it emerged that the building was one of a number of Catholic churches on a terrorist “hit list” found on a suspected ISIS extremist last April.
There are also reports that one of the attackers was a local resident who was under electronic tag surveillance having been jailed in France for trying to travel to Syria in 2015. His bail terms allowed him to be unsupervised between 8.30am and 12.30pm – the attack happened between 9am and 11.am.
ISIS has already claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement published by its Aamaq news agency. It said the killing was carried out by ‘two soldiers of the Islamic State.’
It added the killing was in response to its calls to target countries of the US-led coalition which is fighting ISIS.
Pope Francis has expressed his “pain and horror” at the incident with a spokesman saying the Pontiff was appalled by the ‘barbaric killing’ because it happened in a sacred place.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: ‘Evil attacks the weakest, denies truth and love, is defeated through Jesus Christ. Pray for France, for victims, for their communities.’
French President Francois Hollande, visiting the scene of the attack, condemned the ‘vile terrorist attack’ which he said had been carried out by two men who ‘claimed to be from Daesh’ and insisted France needed to fight the war against ISIS ‘by all means’.