In the hours after two attackers took hostages inside a French church during morning mass on Tuesday near the city of Rouen, slitting the throat of one elderly priest before being killed by police, one nun is speaking out about the grisly assault.
The nun, identified only as Sister Danielle, was in the church at the time of the attack for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility. Describing what happened as the attackers viciously murdered 86-year-old Rev. Jacques Hamel, she called the onslaught as "a horror."
People light candles at the place de la Republique's monument in Paris, on July 26, 2016 after a priest was killed in the Normandy city of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in the latest of a string of attacks against Western targets claimed by or blamed on the Islamic State jihadist group. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
"They forced [Hamel] to his knees, she told French media, according to the BBC. "He wanted to defend himself, and that's when the tragedy happened."
"They recorded themselves," she continued. "They did a sort of sermon around the altar, in Arabic. It's a horror."
The nun said as soon as she saw the attackers, she thought it was all over. She said the radicals told her, "You Christians — you kill us." She described the slain priest as a "faithful" leader "who loved everybody."
In the wake of Hamel's death, residents of all religious stripes have spoken out in shock. Local Imam Mohammed Karabila said he was "stunned by the death of my friend. He was someone who gave his life to others."
A regional Muslim leader said one of the two attackers was known by police. This was the first attack inside a French church in recent history. Another church was targeted last year, but the attack was never carried out.
Tuesday's deadly assault was carried out by "two soldiers of the Islamic State" who were motivated by calls to attack nations in the U.S.-led coalition to destroy the terror group, according to a statement published by the Islamic State-affiliated Amaq news agency.
Dominique Lebrun, the archbishop of Rouen who confirmed Hamel's death, spoke out about the attack earlier Tuesday.
"I cry out to God, with all men of good will. And I invite all non-believers to unite with this cry," he wrote in a statement from Krakow, Poland, where Pope Francis was expected to speak. "The Catholic Church has no other arms besides prayer and fraternity between men."
Upon arriving to the scene of the assault, French President Francois Hollande called it a "vile terrorist attack," adding that it is just one more sign that France is at war with the Islamic State, which has claimed responsibilities for several recent attacks in the region.
The pope also condemned the attack. Rev. Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Vatican, said in a statement that the attack hits particularly hard "because this horrific violence took place in a church, a sacred place in which the love of God is announced, and the barbaric murder of a priest."
France is on high alert and under a state of emergency following the deadly attack in the city of Nice on July 14, the country's Independence Day. The attack left 84 Bastille Day revelers dead and the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
Islamic State leaders have urged followers to target French churches. The group is believed to have planned at least one other attack earlier.
Front page image is a BBC News screen grab
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