- Forced to kneel before throat cut
- Islamic State claims responsibility
Assailants loyal to Islamic State forced an elderly priest to his knees before slitting his throat and took several worshippers hostage in a French church yesterday before police shot the attackers dead.
It was the latest in a wave of attacks in Europe inspired by the Islamist militant group based in Iraq and Syria that is on the defensive against a United States-led military coalition in which France is a major partner.
The knifemen entered the church during morning mass near the northern city of Rouen, northwest of Paris, killing Father Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old parish priest, and taking four other people hostage, one of whom was seriously wounded.
“They forced him to his knees and he tried to defend himself and that’s when the drama began,” Sister Danielle, who escaped as the attackers slayed the priest, told RMC radio. “They filmed themselves. It was like a sermon in Arabic around the altar,” the nun added.
Police shot the attackers dead as they emerged from the church in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. T he anti-terrorist unit of the Paris prosecutor’s office is investigating the attack. Police said one person had been arrested.
Several French media reported that one of the knifemen was a local man who had spent a year in jail on his return from Turkey after being intercepted trying to travel to Syria, but had been freed on bail with an electronic tag pending trial for alleged terrorism offences.
The attack was the latest in a string of deadly assaults including the mass killing in Nice, southern France, on Bastille Day 12 days ago and four incidents in Germany, most recently a suicide bombing at a concert in Ansbach on Sunday.
Speaking at the scene of the attack, President Francois Hollande said Islamic State had declared war on France, which should “use all its means” within the law to fight the group.
The president called it a “dreadful terrorist attack” and told reporters the attackers had pledged allegiance to Islamic State, against which France has launched air strikes in Syria and Iraq. News agency Amaq, which is affiliated with Islamic State, said two of its “soldiers” were involved.
“The threat remains very high,” Hollande said.
Pope Francis condemned what he called a “barbarous killing”.”The fact that this episode took place in a church, killing a priest, a minister of the Lord and involving the faithful, is something that affects us profoundly,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.
The White House condemned the attack and commended the French police for their “quick and decisive response.” Islamic State has called on its supporters to take action with any available weapons targeting countries it has been fighting.
The prosecutor’s office said the identification of the two suspects was still underway and it was too early to jump to conclusions about a possible link. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is expected to enter a conservative primary soon for next year’s presidential election, jumped on the latest incident to accuse the Socialist government of being soft on terrorism.
“We must be merciless,” Sarkozy said in a statement to reporters. “The legal quibbling, precautions and pretexts for insufficient action are not acceptable.
I demand that the government implement without delay the proposals we presented months ago. There is no more time to be wasted.”
Malawi: HIV-infected man paid to have sex with 100 children
Malawi police have arrested an HIV-infected man who was paid to have sex with more than 100 adolescent girls as part of a traditional ritual marking their passage to womanhood, officials said yesterday.
Eric Aniva, from the southern district of Nsanje, was held after giving a media interview confessing to have slept with the girls for a fee of between four and seven dollars, paid by each of their families, AFP reported. Malawi, which has one of the highest HIV infections in the world, criminalises sex with a person under the age of 16. If found guilty of underage sex, Aniva could be imprisoned for life.
The report said the little-known local practice lasts three days and is performed in southern Malawi by men known as “hyenas” at the request of a girl’s parents after her first menstruation. The ritual is believed to train girls to become good wives and to protect them from disease or misfortune that could fall on their families or their village.
“Aniva was arrested on Monday after he was summoned to my office,” district commissioner Gift Lapozo told AFP. In a BBC interview broadcast last week, Aniva confessed to being infected with HIV and sleeping with at least 100 girls without using protection.
“Some girls are just 12 or 13 years old, but I prefer them older,” he said. “All these girls find pleasure in having me as their hyena. They actually are proud and tell other people that this man is a real man, he knows how to please a woman.”
It was unclear over how many years Aniva had been a “hyena”.
Malawian President Peter Mutharika had earlier issued a statement ordering Aniva’s arrest and calling for an inquiry into the role of the parents involved. Aniva should “be investigated for exposing the young girls to contracting HIV and further be charged accordingly,” Mutharika added.
“Harmful cultural and traditional practices cannot be accepted.” The sexual cleansing ritual is also performed on bereaved widows in Nsanje district to exorcise villages of evil spirits or to prevent another death occurring.
Aniva, who has two wives and was reported to be in his 40s, said a “hyena” was selected by the community based on good morals and that custom did not allow him to use condoms. “There was nothing else I could have done,” one girl told the BBC. “I had to do it for the sake of my parents. If I’d refused, my family members could be attacked with diseases, even death, so I was scared.”