By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
NORMANDY, FRANCE (ANS – October 2, 2016) — The French church where an elderly Catholic priest was murdered by Islamist extremists, has opened its doors for the first time since the shocking attack on July 26th of this year.
According to the BBC, the special service that took place today (Sunday, October 2, 2016), began with a procession through the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, in Normandy.
In the church itself, the Archbishop of Rouen Dominique Lebrun sprinkled holy water as a sign of purification.
“Many Muslims also attended the ceremony, which was relayed on a big screen in the town square,” said the BBC.
The attack was claimed by two teenage followers of the self-styled Islamic State, who were shot dead by police afterwards.
The BBC reported that the two assailants entered the church during morning mass on Tuesday, July 26, 2016, at about 09:25 local time. Inside was the priest — 86-year-old Fr. Jacques Hamel — as well as three nuns and two parishioners, according to prosecutor Francois Molins.
One of the nuns, Sister Danielle, said the men, armed with knives, forced the priest to his knees before cutting his throat.
“They recorded it,” she told French radio. “It was like they were performing a sermon in Arabic around the altar. It was horrific.”
While they were attacking the priest, Sister Danielle was able to escape and raise the alarm.
“When police arrived, they tried to negotiate with the attackers, who Mr Molins said had lined up three hostages in front of the door as human shields to prevent police storming the church,” said the BBC.
“The three — two nuns and one parishioner — exited the church, followed by the attackers, one of whom was carrying a gun, who charged police shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ (God is great), Mr. Molins added. The pair were shot dead by police.
“One of the attackers had fake explosives in a backpack. It would take hours for police to ensure the area was safe.”
Who were the attackers?
The so-called Islamic State (IS) said two of its “soldiers” had carried out the attack.
The perpetrators were named as Adel Kermiche and Abdel-Malik Petitjean, both 19.
“Both attackers were known to the French security services, having tried to reach Syria to join IS and been turned back,” the BBC continued.
“Kermiche was awaiting trial on terror charges. He was barred from leaving his local area and was wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet when he died. However, the bracelet was deactivated for a few hours each morning, Mr. Molins added.”
Petitjean had been identified as a potential security threat and the French security services held a so-called “S” file on him.
Kermiche lived in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray with his parents. A schoolmate of his described him as a normal teen who became radicalized after the 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine.
“We tried to reason with him, but every time we tried to reason with him he would reply with some verse from the Koran, he would invent things,” the friend told Reuters news agency.
Petitjean was from a town in eastern France near the German border. Little detail has emerged about his radicalization but sources close to the investigation have told French media that anti-terrorism police had been looking for a man who looked like Petitjean in the days before the attack.
They had received a tip-off from a foreign intelligence agency, which had warned of an imminent attack and supplied a photograph, but no name, of the likely assailant.
More about the victim
The BBC said that those who knew Jacques Hamel have described a “kind and generous man.” He was semi-retired, and was filling in for the regular priest, Father Auguste Moanda-Phuati, at the time of the attack.
Born in 1930 in Darnetal, Seine-Maritime, Hamel was ordained in 1958 and celebrated his golden jubilee — 50 years of priesthood — in 2008, according to the parish website.
“He was a man who was always there for others,” Philippe Maheut, the vicar general who helps oversee the parish, told France 24.
Mohammed Karabila, the president of Normandy’s Regional Council of the Muslim Faith, who worked with Father Hamel on an interfaith committee, described him as “a man of peace” who “dedicated his life to his ideas and religion.”
Thousands attended Fr. Hamel’s funeral in the city of Rouen in August.
“This is a new stage of healing, of convalescence,” said town mayor Hubert Wulfranc, who hopes to erect a monument in memory of Fr. Hamel.
Mafalda Pace, 81, who lives next door to the 16th-Century church, said Fr. Hamel was “a good priest.”
“I always went to see him and he never refused to be of service,” she told the AFP news agency.
The killing of Fr. Hamel shocked France. It came after an attack that killed 86 people on Bastille Day when a militant Islamist drove a truck into crowds in the southern city of Nice.
Photo captions: 1) Father Jacques Hamel was killed while celebrating Mass (Catholic Diocese of Rouen MO). 2) Security was tight for Sunday’s special service (EPA). 3) Archbishop Dominique Lebrun led a special Mass inside the church (Christophe Petit Tesson). 4) The small church was packed for the ceremony (EPA). 5) Dan Wooding.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren, who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is the author of some 45 books, and has been a full-time journalist since 1968. While still based in London, Wooding was a senior reporter for two of Great Britain’s largest-circulation newspapers, and was an interviewer for BBC Radio One and for LBC, the capital city’s main commercial talk station. Dan now has a weekly radio show and two TV shows all based in Southern California.
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