Security throughout France was high Saturday after this week’s deadly stabbings at a church in Nice as President Emmanuel Macron tried to ease tensions in the country.
French leaders have termed Thursday’s incident an Islamist terrorist attack after the perpetrator shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) as he decapitated a woman and killed two others in Notre Dame Basilica in Nice.
Thursday’s attack followed the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty earlier this month after the republication of the Prophet Muhammad by the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
Macron triggered protests in the Muslim world after the murder of Paty, who showed a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad to his class, by saying France would never renounce its right to caricature.
On Saturday, though, Macron sounded a more empathetic tone in an interview with Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera.
“I can understand that people could be shocked by the caricatures, but I will never accept that violence can be justified,” Macron said.
Meanwhile, French authorities detained a third man for questioning Saturday in connection with the Islamist knife attack at Notre Dame Basilica in the southern French city of Nice that left three people dead.
The man, a 33-years-old, was present during a police search Friday at the home of a second young Tunisian man suspected of being in contact with the attacker.
France, Tunisia and Italy are jointly investigating to determine the motive of main suspect Ibrahim Issaoui, a 21-year-old Tunisian, and whether he acted alone and whether his act was premeditated.
French police have three people in custody for questioning after they found two telephones on the suspect after the attack.
The first man, age 47, was detained Thursday night after police reviewed surveillance footage and observed the person next to the attacker on the day before the attack.
A second detained subject, 35, suspected of contacting Ibrahim Issaoui, the day before the attack, was arrested Friday.
Macron said earlier in the week he would increase the number of troops deployed to protect schools and churches from 3,000 to 7,000.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, meanwhile, strongly denounced the attacks and remarks Macron made on Oct. 21, when he said Paty “was the victim of a conspiracy of stupidity, hate, lies … hate of the other … hate of what we profoundly are.”
“The comments could divide the unity of the world’s religious communities at a time when the world needs unity to curb the COVID-19 pandemic,” Widodo said Saturday during a televised news conference in Jakarta.
Tunisian authorities are reportedly investigating whether a group called the Mahdi Organization carried out the attack. The state news agency TAP reported Friday investigators were also trying to determine whether the group exists and that the probe is based on claims of responsibility on social media.
Issaoui, who transited Italy last month en route to France, remains in critical condition in a French hospital after being wounded by police as they arrested him.
Three people were killed in Thursday’s attack. French anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said a 60-year-old woman was decapitated, and a 55-year-old man, the church sexton, had his throat slit. Forty-four-year-old Brazilian national Simone Barreto Silva was stabbed several times before fleeing to a nearby bistro, where she raised the alarm before succumbing to her wounds.
Issaoui was not on Tunisia’s list of suspected militants and was not known to French intelligence services.
Ricard said Issaoui arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa on September 20 and traveled to Paris on October 9.
He said Issaoui was carrying a copy of the Quran. The knife used in the attack was found near him and two other knives not used in the attack were found in a bag that belonged to him.
French leaders have termed Thursday’s incident an Islamist terrorist attack and raised the country’s security alert to its highest level.