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Second suspect in custody in suspected terror attack in French church

Suspected terror attack kills 3 in France
Suspected terror attack kills 3 in France 01:31

Nice, France — A new suspect was in custody Friday in the investigation into a gruesome attack by a Tunisian man who killed three people in a French church, as France heightened its security alert amid religious and geopolitical tensions around cartoons mocking the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

The suspect is a 47-year-old man believed to have been in contact with the attacker the night before the attack on the Notre Dame Basilica in the Riviera city of Nice, according to a judicial official. The official wasn't authorized to be publicly named.

The second suspect was detained late Thursday, Agence France-Presse reports.

The attacker, Ibrahim Issaoui, was seriously wounded by police and hospitalized in life-threatening condition, authorities said. Anti-terrorism prosecutors in France and Tunisia are investigating.

The Reuters news agency quotes France's interior minister, Gerald Damarnin, as saying Friday his nation is engaged in a war against Islamist ideology and more terror attacks there are likely.

Aouissaoui had a copy of the Koran, two phones and three knives when he entered the church at about 8:30 a.m., French anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard told a news conference late Thursday, according to AFP.

He slit the throats of a 60-year-old woman and a 55-year-old man – one was beheaded -- and stabbed a 44-year-old woman who managed to flee but later died of her wounds, authorities said. Media reports said she was Brazilian and had been living in Nice for several years

France Attack
Flowers, messages and candles lie in front of the Notre Dame church in Nice, France, on October 30, 2020. A new suspect was in custody in the investigation into a gruesome attack by a Tunisian man who killed three people in the church. France heightened its security alert amid religious and geopolitical tensions around cartoons mocking the Muslim prophet. Daniel Cole / AP

The victims were "people targeted for the sole reason that they were present in this church at that moment," Ricard said.

In an interview broadcast Friday with Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV, Issaoui's mother said she was shocked by the events.

From the Tunisian province of Sfax, the mother, her eyes wet with tears, said she was surprised to hear her son was in France when he called upon his arrival and had no idea what he was planning. "You don't know the French language, you don't know anyone there, you're going to live alone there, why, why did you go there?" she said she told him over the phone at the time.

His brother told Al-Arabiya that Issaoui had informed the family he would sleep in front of the church, and sent them a photograph showing him at the cathedral where the attack took place. "He didn't tell me anything," he said. A neighbor said he knew the assailant when he was a mechanic and held various other odd jobs and had shown no signs of radicalization. 

APTOPIX France Attack
Police officers stand guard near Notre Dame church in Nice, in southern France, on October 29, 2020 after an attacker armed with a knife killed three people. Eric Gaillard / AP

France's anti-terrorism prosecutor said the suspect is a Tunisian born in 1999 who reached the Italian island of Lampedusa, a key landing point for migrants crossing in boats from North Africa, on Sept. 20 and traveled to Bari, a port city in southern Italy, on Oct. 9. It is not clear when he arrived in Nice.

The attack was the third in less than two months that French authorities have attributed to Muslim extremists, including the beheading of a teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class after the images were re-published by satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

President Emmanuel Macron said he would immediately increase the number of soldiers deployed to protect schools and religious sites from around 3,000 to 7,000.

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 was attacked 

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