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NICE, France (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Muslim jihadi has gone on a stabbing spree in Nice's Notre-Dame Basilica, killing the male sacristan, beheading an elderly woman at the baptismal font and knifing a fleeing third woman who died in a nearby café.
The assailant in his 20s, identifying himself as "Brahim," stabbed and wounded several others around the neo-gothic Basilica of the Assumption of our Lady around 9 am Thursday.
Police shot and severely wounded the killer, who was heard repeatedly shouting "Allahu Akbar" [God is greatest] as he was taken away in an ambulance.
"He cried 'Allahu Akbar!' over and over, even after he was injured. The meaning of his gesture left no doubt," Nice's Mayor Christian Estrosi told BFM television, labeling the attack "Islamo-fascist terror."
Explosions were heard in the area after a bomb squad entered the vicinity of the basilica. Police with automatic rifles cordoned the area around the church, which is on Nice's Jean Médecin Avenue, the Mediterranean city's main shopping thoroughfare.
Popular French ethicist Fr. Pierre-Hervé Grosjean said the victims "were killed because they were Christians."
A source said the two murdered women had gone to the basilica to pray soon after it opened at 8:30 a.m.
Calling for prayers for the deceased, Fr. Grosjean spoke from the diocese of Versailles about "immense anger against these Islamic barbarians, who come to attack us in such a cowardly manner."
"Flowers and candles will not be enough. We believers, we will pray for the deceased and their loved ones, for the conversion of the hearts of these barbarians. But the mission of politicians is not flowers or candles. It is to protect us from this enemy and defeat it," Grosjean asserted.
Mainstream media and politicians, tight-lipped on the role of jihadi ideology in the stabbing spree, referred to the incident as a "terrorist attack."
A noted Sharia scholar told Church Militant the deliberate attempt to decapitate the infidel was typical of Islamic-styled executions as prescribed in the Qur'an: "So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks until ... you have inflicted slaughter upon them ... ." (47:4).
The Shariah scholar noted how Italian priest Fr. Roberto Malgesini was similarly beheaded in September by an illegal Muslim migrant he was assisting.
Speaking to Church Militant, eminent Islamic expert Robert Spencer explained the recent situation where "the rhetoric from Muslim leaders has been sharply escalating tensions" following the controversy over the reprinting of Muhammad cartoons by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
On Wednesday Turkey's president, Recep Erdoğan, attacked a Charlie Hebdo cartoon showing him in his underwear looking at the bare bottom of a woman in an Islamic veil.
"I didn't look at this cartoon. My anger is not due to the despicable attack on my person, but to the insults against the prophet," Erdoğan retorted.
"Erdoğan's language has been increasingly belligerent, and Mahathir Mohamad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, has declared that 'Muslims have a right to kill millions of French people,'" Spencer remarked.
"This new spate of attacks, not just in Nice, but in Avignon as well as in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, prove that the 'dialogue' Pope Francis is pursuing is and will be entirely fruitless," Spencer, author of best-selling The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS.
"He is likely to condemn Fr. Grosjean for speaking of 'Islamic barbarians' and to mute discussion within the Church of why such attacks happen for fear of harming his 'dialogue.' Yet will that 'dialogue' prevent even one jihad attack on innocent people? It will not," Spencer stressed.
A statement released by the Holy See Press Office said Pope Francis is praying for all those affected by the brutal attack and that the people may respond to evil with good.
In 2015, the pontiff made remarks which seemed to justify violent Muslim mobs protesting against Charlie Hebdo's caricatures of Muhammad.
En route to the Philippines, Pope Francis referred to papal trip organizer Alberto Gasparri, who was standing by his side onboard the papal plane.
"If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," Francis said while pretending to throw a punch in his direction.
"It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others," Francis added. "Each religion has its dignity. I cannot make fun of it."
Last month Church Militant reported that leading Catholic jurist Giuseppe Dalla Torre echoed Pope Francis' warning against caricaturing Muhammad, arguing that the Western tradition of satire must not be used to target people of other religious or ethnic backgrounds.
"Who would tolerate public satirical barbs at their mother? And for every believer, religion is a mother," argued Torre, who is also a canon lawyer.
In a statement announcing that all churches in Nice are closed and placed under police protection till further notice, Bp. André Marceau of Nice said: "My sadness as a human being is infinite in the face of what other so-called human beings can do."
Following the murder of schoolteacher Samuel Paty, Islamic State (ISIS) issued a video Wednesday calling for attacks against France as cartoons of Islam's founder Muhammad were projected onto government buildings in support of free speech.
Islamic terrorist organization Al-Qaeda also issued a press release explicitly threatening France with revenge attacks.
Meanwhile, in a second, separate incident in the French city of Avignon, police shot dead an "Allahu Akbar"–shouting gunman during an exchange of fire two hours after the Nice attack.
In a third attack, a jihadi stabbed a security guard outside the French consulate in Saudi Arabia — again, hours after the massacre in Nice.
France called for national mourning after a jihadi beheaded history teacher Samuel Paty days after he showed Charlie Hebdo's caricatures of Muhammad to pupils in a class about freedom of expression.
Two Islamic gunmen killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo's Paris office in January 2015. A third assassin shot dead five more in related attacks.
In 2016, 84 people were killed, including 10 children, after Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel — calling himself a 'soldier of Islam' — drove a truck through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice.
Two weeks later, jihadis Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean beheaded Fr. Jacques Hamel while the 86-year-old priest was celebrating Mass in his parish in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy.