Ireland’s Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin joined in the voicing of global shock as he offered prayers to those affected by the terrorist murder of an 86-year-old priest at his church in France.
The message of solidarity was conveyed as French authorities last night revealed that one of the two men, shot dead after the outrage in the Normandy chuch of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, had twice been arrested as he tried to get to Syria.
The attack was witnessed by worshippers and by nuns who were forced to watch it before being used as human shields by the men.
Archbishop Martin wrote to Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen to express his shock, and offer condolences and “the prayerful solidarity of the Church in Ireland”. He said it is profoundly disturbing that people gathered in a church for worship and prayer should be targeted like this.
Pope Francis expressed “pain and horror for this absurd violence, with the strongest condemnation for every form of hatred and prayer for those affected”.
The two attackers slit the throat of Fr Jacques Hamel, an 86-year-old priest celebrating Mass in a French church, killing him and gravely injuring one of the few worshippers present. The attackers were shot to death by police.
A nun who escaped said she saw the attackers video themselves and “give a sermon in Arabic” around the altar at the church near Rouen in Normandy.
IS claimed responsibility for the first attack in a church in the West.
Police rescued three other people inside the church — including a second nun — in the small north-western town.
Last night, Paris prosecutor François Molins said that one of the men, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, was wearing an electronic surveillance bracelet.
He had been arrested twice last year trying to join extremists in Syria, stopped in Germany and Turkey two months apart while using the ID of his brother and then his cousin.
His parents had flagged his radical behaviour to authorities, according to a family friend, to try to stop him going to Syria.
Molins said the attackers carried fake explosives and used nuns as human shields, claiming allegiance to IS and shouting “Allahu Akbar” during the attack.
A 16-year-old, believed to be the younger brother of someone wanted by police for trying to go to Syria or Iraq in 2015, was also detained as part of the investigation and police raids were continuing last night.
At the scene yesterday, French president François Hollande called it a “vile terrorist attack” and one more sign that France is at war with IS, which has claimed a string of attacks on France and two in Germany.
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