World leaders, Christian figures decry attack at Nice church

World expresses solidarity and support for France after an attacker killed three people.

A relative of a victim of the knife attack cries in front of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice [Valery Hache/AFP]

World leaders and prominent Christian figures have expressed their solidarity with France after a deadly attack at a church in the southern French city of Nice.

Three people were killed by a man armed with a knife in what investigators are treating as “an act of terrorism”.

The assailant was wounded by police and hospitalised after the killings at the Notre Dame Basilica, less than a kilometre (half-mile) from the site in 2016 where another attacker ploughed a truck into a Bastille Day crowd, killing dozens.

The incident took place amid growing tensions between France and the Muslim world, triggered by French President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial comment on October 2 that Islam is a religion in “crisis” globally.

The fallout grew after a French teacher was killed on October 16. Samuel Paty was beheaded in broad daylight after he showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which are deeply offensive to Muslims, to his students.

While Muslims have condemned the killing, they fear a crackdown targeting Muslim organisations and are upset by the renewed support for the right to show the cartoons, which often suggest Islam and “terrorism” are linked.

This is how the world reacted to the Nice’s knife attack:

Pope Francis is praying for the victims and called for an end to all “terrorist violence”.

“Informed of the savage attack which was perpetrated this morning in a church in Nice, causing the death of several innocent people, His Holiness Pope Francis joins in prayer with the suffering of the families and shares their grief,” said a message sent in his name to the bishop of Nice.

It said the pope condemned “in the most energetic manner such violent acts of terror” and urged the French people to remain united.

Earlier, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the attack “sowed death in a place of love and consolation,” a house of God.

“It is a moment of pain in a time of confusion. Terrorism and violence can never be accepted,” Bruni said.

He said Francis was praying for an end to such violence and “for people to look at each other again as brothers and sisters and not as enemies.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK stood steadfast with France.

“I am appalled to hear the news from Nice this morning of a barbaric attack at the Notre-Dame Basilica,” Johnson said on Twitter in both English and French.

“Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and the UK stands steadfastly with France against terror and intolerance.”

The Turkish foreign ministry said  it strongly condemned the deadly knife attack.

“No reason could legitimise or excuse killing someone or violence. Those who conducted this savage attack at a sacred place of worship do not clearly share any religious, humane or moral values,” said a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman.

“Turkey is in solidarity with French people as a nation who also lost her citizens to terrorism,” added the spokesman.

Iran condemned Thursday’s knife attack calling it a “cycle of provocations and violence” that must stop.

“We strongly condemn today’s terrorist attack in #Nice,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.

“This escalating vicious cycle-hate speech, provocations & violence-must be replaced by reason & sanity. We should recognize that radicalism breads more radicalism, and peace cannot be achieved with ugly provocation.”

Zarif included a verse from the Quran: “And We have not sent you, [O Mohammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.”

Egypt’s Al-Azhar University denounced the knife attack. Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar, said in statement: “There is no justification for such heinous terrorist attacks which contradict the tolerant teachings of Islam and all monotheistic religions.”

El-Tayeb also warned against rising incidents of violence and hate speech that specifically target the beliefs of people.

“Terrorism has no religion, all Muslims are invited to condemn this criminal act that neither belongs to Islam nor to the peace-loving Prophet [Muhammad],” he added.

President of the European Council Charles Michel said he “stands in solidarity” with the French people.

Translation: All my solidarity with France and the French. My thoughts are with the victims of the heinous attack on Nice and their loved ones. All of Europe is with you.

Russia’s Kremlin said it was unacceptable to kill people, but also wrong to insult the feelings of religious believers.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany stood with France after the “brutal” knife attack.

“I am deeply shaken by the brutal murders in the church in Nice. My thoughts are with the relatives of those murdered and injured. Germany stands with France at this difficult time,” she said in a tweet posted by her spokesman Steffen Seibert.

European Union leaders expressed solidarity with France as well and pledged to confront “those that seek to incite and spread hatred”.

“I condemn the odious and brutal attack that has just taken place in Nice and I am with France with all my heart,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.

“My thoughts are with the victims of this hateful act. All of Europe is in solidarity with France. We will remain united and determined in the face of barbarity and fanaticism.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte expressed his solidarity, saying the French were “not alone in the battle against extremism”.

Translation: For the second time in a short time, France is hit by an abominable terrorist act, this time in Nice. Our hearts go out to the victims’ loved ones. To our French friends, we say: You are not alone in the fight against extremism, the Netherlands is at your side.

Italy‘s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte condemned the “vile” attack, stressing on the importance of defending certain values, he said on Twitter both in Italian and French.

“The vile attack… will not shake the common front defending the values of freedom and peace,” Conte posted on Twitter, adding “our convictions are stronger than fanaticism, hatred and terror.”

Translation: The vile attack on the Nice cathedral will not weaken our common front in defence of the values of peace and freedom. Our convictions are stronger than fanaticism, hatred and terror. We are close to the families of the victims and to our French brothers. We are united!

Reactions came also from Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio who expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, adding in a tweet that Italy “repudiates any extremism and remains alongside France in the fight against terrorism and any violent radicalism”.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said: “We continue to defend freedom, our democratic values, peace and the security of our citizens. United against terror and hatred.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury said he was “praying for the nation of France and for the friends and relatives of those murdered in Nice today.”

Separately the Muslim Council of Britain said on Twitter it was “deeply saddened by the news,” adding that “there can be no justification for this violence, particularly at a place of worship.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also condemned the attack on Twitter and reiterated the Kingdom’s “utter rejection of such extremist acts that are inconsistent with all religions, human beliefs and common sense.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies