Jihadis affiliated with the Islamic State stormed a church in Normandy, France, during morning mass on Tuesday, and brutally murdered an 84-year-old priest and took nuns and worshipers as hostages.
Two assailants stormed the Church of the Gambetta in the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray district of Normandy around 10 a.m. local time. They took five people hostage, including the priest, identified as Father Jacques Hamel, two nuns and two parishioners.
Hamel eventually lost his life, as the men slit his throat with a knife. The assailants also left three others wounded.
According to Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet, one hostage was seriously hurt and is straddling the line between life and death at a nearby hospital. Police were able to rescue three people from the church, Brandet added.
The police shot the two radicals dead and are investigating to see if there were other accomplices involved in the attack.
The Paris prosecutor's office, which oversees terror investigations, has detained one person for questioning. The Associated Press, however, reports that the detainee offered no details on location or identity.
French President François Hollande responded to the attack by telling journalists in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray that IS (also known as ISIS and ISIL) is responsible for the "cowardly assassination" carried out by "by two terrorists in the name of Daesh." Daesh is the arabic acronym for IS.
"The threat remains very high," Hollande said. "We are confronted with a group, Daesh, which has declared war on us. We have to wage war by every means, (but through) upholding the law, which is because we are a democracy."
IS has also claimed responsibility for the attack.
A statement posted to Telegram by the IS-linked Amaq news agency Tuesday claims that the assailants were "soldiers of the Islamic State." The statement also says that the attack was a response to calls by IS to target citizens of states participating in the United States-led anti-IS coalition.
Vocativ reports that even before IS officially took responsibility for the incident, IS supporters did not waste time in praising the attack.
"Yesterday in Ansbach and before that in Nice, and today in Rouen," a statement on a pro-IS Telegram channel asserted. "Slaughtering, stabbing, ramming and killing in Europe. This is what you brought for yourselves, you Crusaders."
IS supporters also took to Twitter to voice their praise of the attack.
"The (sense of) security you lived in has gone forever, you Crusaders," an ISIS supporter tweeted. "Today no voice is louder than the voice of the Caliphate, thank God."
Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, condemned the attack and killing of Hamel by calling it "absurd violence."
Hamel, who was ordained in 1958, had been retired for over a decade but still officiated services at the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray when the church's regular priest was busy, The Guardian reports.
Dominique Lebrun, the archbishop of Rouen who was in Poland for a gathering of young Catholics, will be returning to France on Tuesday evening and will visit the church.
"The Catholic Church has no other arms than prayer and fraternity among men," Lebrun said. "I will leave behind here hundreds of young people who are the future of humanity, of true humanity. I ask them not to give up in the face of such violence and to become apostles for a civilization of love."
In response to the attack, the Christian human rights advocacy group In Defense of Christians released a statement explaining that "it is no accident that priests and nuns have become a special target."
"The particular targeting of clergy, both priests and nuns, by radical Islamic terrorists is now as familiar as mass shootings. It has been a characteristic of the violence of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates from Iraq to Syria to Yemen — and now France," IDC Executive Director Kirsten Evans said in a statement shared with The Christian Post.
"Clergy are non-violent servants of their communities, Christian and Muslim, around the world. The goal of ISIS and their affiliate violent extremists is to frame the current struggle as one between Muslims and Christians," she added. "It is, on the contrary, a struggle between people of good will and these violent extremists, purveyors of evil and hatred."
IS' claim of responsibility for the priest's death comes after the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing conducted in Germany that left many injured. The bombing was conducted by a Syrian man who was reportedly denied asylum.
IS claims that the bomber was also acting on calls from IS "to target countries of the coalition that fights Islamic State."
Before blowing himself up, the suicide bomber allegedly pledged allegiance to the terror outfit, multiple reports indicate.