An attacker armed with a knife beheaded one person and killed two others at a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday, French police and officials said. The country was already on high alert for extremist violence amid tensions over caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad published by satirical French magazine, Charlie Hebdo.
French authorities opened a terrorism investigation, and French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he would more than double number of soldiers deployed to protect against attacks — from approximately 3,000 to 7,000.
During Thursday's attack, the assailant reportedly cried out "Allahu akbar," Nice's mayor, Christian Estrosi, said. The attacker, who was injured while being arrested, was taken to a nearby hospital, a police official said. He was believed to have been acting alone.
There have beenwith links to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. France has now raised its security threat level to the highest available.
Estrosi said the attacker shouted "Allahu akbar!" (God is greatest) repeatedly as police apprehended him and that "the meaning of his gesture left no doubt," Reuters reported.
Estrosi told French broadcaster BFM TV that one of the people who was killed in the church, a woman, was beheaded. Another woman and a man were also killed.
Images on French media showed the neighborhood locked down and surrounded by police and emergency vehicles. Sounds of explosions could be heard as sappers blew up suspicious objects.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith condemned the attack and expressed solidarity with the victims and the victims' families. The lower house of France's parliament suspended a debate on new virus restrictions and held a moment of silence.
Earlier this month, a teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded after showing a controversial cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad published in the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, to some of his students as part of a lesson on freedom of expression.
The cartoon upset many in the Muslim world, andheightened tensions in France, sparking countrywide rallies in support of freedom of speech. An anti-Islamist statement by Emmanuel Macron in the aftermath of that attack prompted calls across the Muslim world — led by Turkey — to boycott French goods. France reacted by recalling its ambassador in Ankara.
A subsequent cartoon published in Charlie Hebdowas criticized by Turkish officials for sowing "the seeds of hatred and animosity."
Turkey issued a statement on Thursday strongly condemning the attack in Nice and saying it stands in solidarity with French people against terrorism and violence.
The coastal city of Nice was the site of one of France's deadliest terror attacks in recent years, when, in 2016, 86 people were killed by a 31-year-old Tunisian man driving a truck through a crown of people celebrating Bastille Day. A few days after that, a priest, Father Jacques Hamel, was attacked and had his throat slit at a church in Rouen during morning Mass.