A man with a knife attacked and killed three people in a church in the southern French city of Nice on Thursday, in what officials said was an act of terrorism.
President Emmanuel Macron was attending a crisis meeting in Paris over the incident, and would fly to Nice later, the Elysée Palace said.
Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice, said the man had been detained in what was clearly a terror attack. “There is no doubt of the attacker’s intentions,” he said. “He was saying ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great] at the church.”
Mr Estrosi added that the time had come to “definitively annihilate Islamo-fascism . . . Enough is enough.”
France was already on high alert after the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty this month by an Islamist Chechen refugee on the street outside his school in a Paris suburb. Paty was criticised by Muslim parents and Islamists on social media after he showed a class some caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson on freedom of speech.
Jean Castex, prime minister, left the National Assembly where he was discussing the coronavirus pandemic to join the crisis meeting. “In the very difficult times our country is going through and the trials it faces, I can only call once again for all parliamentarians to stand together in unity,” he said.
The assembly held a minute’s silence for the victims of the Nice attack.
Cartoons deemed blasphemous by many Muslims and published by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo have been the trigger for the latest wave of attacks in France, as they were for a deadly assault by gunmen on the publication’s offices in 2015.
The trial of 14 alleged accomplices who took part in that terror attack five years ago is continuing in Paris, and Charlie Hebdo republished its caricatures at the start of the trial last month. The cartoons shown by Paty to his class were among those published by Charlie Hebdo.
Mr Macron has condemned Islamist violence and “separatism” in France and defended the right to free speech, including the right to blaspheme, under the country’s longstanding policy of secularism in public life.
Several leaders of Muslim-majority nations, including Turkey, have taken exception to Mr Macron’s stand, and in some countries in the Middle East and south Asia boycotts have been launched against French products.