Mass held at French church after attack

Caroline Pailliez
·2-min read

Shocked local parishioners have gathered outside the Notre-Dame Catholic Church in the southern French city of Nice, seeking solace at its first mass in the three days since a knife-wielding attacker killed three people inside.

In France's second deadly knife attack in two weeks with a suspected Islamist motive, an assailant shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest) beheaded a woman and killed two other people in the basilica.

Church sexton Vincent Loques was one of the victims, along with mother-of-three Simone Barreto Silva, who moved to France from Brazil as a teenager. A 60-year-old woman, named by church officials as Nadine, was beheaded.

The attack followed the beheading of a Paris schoolteacher on October 16 by a Chechen-born man, apparently angered the teacher had shown cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad to teach a lesson on free speech.

On Sunday evening, several hundred people gathered on the other side of a security perimetre around the church to follow the mass from a distance.

Standing on the steps of the church, which was covered in wreaths and candles, the bishop of Nice, Andre Marceau, paid tribute to the three victims.

"The meaning of this celebration is to speak of ... our bewilderment, our sadness, our suffering, our feeling of anger maybe, our struggle to understand," Marceau said before the mass. "And above all, to give strength to our peacemakers."

Two more men were arrested on Saturday in connection with the attack, bringing the number of people in custody to six.

The suspected attacker, a 21-year-old from Tunisia, was shot by police and is in critical condition in hospital.

The Nice church is not far from the seaside promenade, where a suspected Islamist drove a truck into a crowd in 2016, killing more than 80 people on Bastille Day.