PARIS - French authorities have announced new arrests related to an apparent Islamist terrorist attack at a church in Nice last week, even as they continue to investigate a separate church attack in another city shortly after.
Sunday marks the Christian holiday of All Saints Day. France is a traditionally Catholic country and while many French today are not very religious, they are still reeling from back-to-back attacks targeting churches — first a knife attack in Nice that left three people dead, and a separate shooting attack Saturday targeting a Greek Orthodox priest at his church in the city of Lyon.
French media report authorities have arrested more people related to the Nice attack, which President Emmanuel Macron has described as an act of terrorism. The main suspect, Tunisian immigrant Brahim Issaoui, remains hospitalized after police shot him multiple times.
Tunisian and French investigators are trying to piece together Issaoui’s motivations and who might have helped him carry out the brutal knifings at Nice’s Notre Dame Basilica Thursday morning. He seems to have arrived in France only days before.
Meanwhile a suspect has been arrested in the Lyon attack, but his motive was not immediately clear.
These are the latest of several attacks to hit France in recent weeks, most apparently related to the republication of cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed. Last month, schoolteacher Samuel Paty was decapitated by an Islamist extremist, apparently for showing the caricatures in a class on free speech.
Muslims find the cartoons deeply offensive, and their republication — along with President Macron’s defense of the right to publish them in the name of free expression — has led to protests and boycotts in several Muslim countries.
In an interview with broadcaster Al-Jazeera, President Macron said he understood people could be shocked by the cartoons, but that did not justify physical violence. He said he would always defend free expression in France.
France has weathered multiple Islamist terrorist attacks in recent years, including the 2015 Paris attacks, along a 2016 strike in Nice. Once again, France’s national security alert is at its highest level. The country is also in lockdown, in response to a separate crisis in the coronavirus pandemic.
In Nice, where flowers are piled up in front of the Notre Dame Basilica, residents told French radio they did not feel secure.
The attacks have also sparked debate about France’s staunch defense of secularism and just how far free speech should go. And the country’s Muslim community fears it will be stigmatized.
On Monday, children return to class after a two-week vacation. Schools nationwide are to hold a minute of silence to commemorate slain teacher Paty.