French policemen stand guard the site of a knife attack at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice in Nice on October 29, 2020, as forensics officers prepare to enter.
French policemen stand guard the site of a knife attack at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice in Nice on October 29, 2020, as forensics officers prepare to enter. Image Credit: AFP

Paris/Nice: The Tunisian suspect in Thursday’s attack in Nice is Brahim Aouissaoui, 21, a Tunisian security source and a French police source said.

The suspect only arrived in France earlier this month after coming to Europe on a migrant boat via the Italian island of Lampedusa at the end of September, an official source told AFP.

Aouissaoui is originally from the village of Sidi Omar Bouhajla near Kairouan, but had lately been living in Sfax and police visited his family there on Thursday, the Tunisian source said.

What happened in the initial moments

As he did every day, the sexton of the Notre Dame church in the French city of Nice opened up the doors around 08:30 am. There were few people around; the first Mass of the day was not due to start for another two hours.

But by around 9am, a man armed with a knife entered the church and slit the throat of the sexton, partially beheaded an elderly woman, and badly wounded a third woman, according to a police source.

The sexton and the elderly woman died on the spot, the third woman managed to make it out of the church into a nearby cafe, but she died from her wounds, Nice mayor Christian Estrosi told reporters at the scene. None of the victims has so far been named.

UAE issues a statement
The UAE has strongly condemned the terrorist act that took place in Nice, France, which resulted in a number of victims and wounding others.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation issued a statement expressing its strong condemnation of these criminal acts.
The ministry stressed its permanent rejection of all forms of violence that aim to destabilize security and stability and are inconsistent with religious and humanitarian values and principles.
The ministry also expressed its sincere condolences and condolences to the families of the victims, and its wishes for a speedy recovery for all the injured.

What happened in the initial moments of the attack inside the church, a neo-Gothic building in a tree-lined square in the centre of Nice, remains unclear. But testimony from witnesses, mobile phone footage, and accounts from officials, offer an initial if incomplete picture of how the attack ended.

At some point during the attack inside the church, someone ran to a bakery next to the church, and asked staff to call the police. “I thought it was a joke, I didn’t believe it,” said one of the staff in the bakery, who spoke to French broadcaster BFMTV and gave his name as David.

France Notre Dame church in Nice police officers
Police officers stand guard near the Notre Dame church in Nice, southern France, after a knife attack took place on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. Image Credit: AP

Call over intercom

But when the person insisted the police should be called, David said he walked the short distance to the corner of Rue d’Italie and Avenue Jean Medecin, where last year local authorities installed an intercom in front of the church that connects directly to the municipal police.

David said he pressed the button on the intercom, and summoned the police. The mayor, Estrosi, who had attended last year’s unveiling of the intercom, said this was how police were first alerted to the attack.

Emmanuel Macron, and Nice mayor Christian Estrosi FRance knife attack
French President Emmanuel Macron, and Nice mayor Christian Estrosi , right, meet police officers after a knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, southern France, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. Image Credit: AP

David said the police arrived on the scene within 30 seconds, while he went back inside his bakery and pulled down the blinds. The police arrived at 09:10 am, according to a police spokesman, 10 minutes after the attack began.

Blood and panic

At some point during the attack, the knifeman came out of the church, according to Didier-Olivier Reverdy of police officer’s union Alliance Police Nationale.

“When the attacker came out, there was a kind of panic around the concourse” surrounding the church, said Reverdy. “There was blood visible.” Anais Colomna was in the lawyer’s office where she works, next to the church, when her phone call was interrupted by the sound of gunfire. “When I turned around, I saw that they (the police) were firing at someone who was moving away from the church,” she told Reuters. The man police were firing at then disappeared from view, she said.

What happened next is unclear, but it appeared the attacker went back inside the church.

In video footage obtained by Reuters, shot from a balcony across the street from the church, police officers with guns and Tasers raised, could be seen in the side entrance of the church, looking inside. Gunshots could be heard. It was not clear from the footage what they were shooting at.

Footage from the same balcony vantage point later showed a man with dark hair on an ambulance gurney being wheeled out of the side entrance of the church and into a waiting ambulance.

Man surrounded

Police with guns surrounded the man on the stretcher, who was motionless. A witness who observed the scene said the man on the gurney was the knife attacker, but Reuters was unable to independently verify that.

Outside the church a short while later, parishioners gathered to seek news about the victims.

Michele Male, one of the parishioners, broke down in tears. “We just found out on TV that our sexton was assassinated,” she told reporters. “We’re in shock.” The sexton -- a lay member of staff responsible for the upkeep of the church - was in his late 40s or early 50s and had two children, said Gil Florini, a Catholic priest in Nice. “He did his job as a sexton very well. He was a very kind person,” said Florini.


Who is the attacker?

As investigations continue, little is known about the man attacked. What we do know is, he is a  21-year-old Tunisian who arrived in Europe just a few weeks ago.

The suspect, identified as Brahim Aouissaoui, landed in late September on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where he was placed in virus quarantine by authorities before being released with an order to quit Italian territory.

He arrived in France in early October, the sources said.


Muslim Council of Elders condemns terror attack in Nice

The Muslim Council of Elders has strongly condemned the terror attack at the Notre-Dame basilica in the French city of Nice, which led to the deaths of three people.

The Council affirms that the recent upsurge in terror and hate attacks requires serious action by countering extremism and criminalising hate speech which may fuel further attacks and other acts of hate.

The Council affirms that religions are not connected to such heinous acts which are only representative of their perpetrators and not their faiths.

The Council wishes to express its utmost condolences to the families of the victims and the people of France as well as all victims of violence and terror around the world.


World leaders condemn deadly knife attack in France

Condemnation came from the pope and European leaders as well as from Turkey, which is involved in a heated diplomatic spat with Paris over cartoons mocking the Prophet (PBUH).

'Savage' attack 

"We strongly condemn the attack committed today inside the Notre-Dame church in Nice," a Turkish foreign ministry statement said.

It also expressed solidarity with France, and offered condolences to the relatives of the three people killed in the attack.

EU solidarity 

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 wil remain united and determined in the face of barbarity and fanaticism."

Merkel 'deeply shaken' 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said "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."

'Vile attack' 

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte condemned what he called a "vile attack" and said it "will not shake the common front defending the values of freedom and peace.

"Our convictions are stronger than fanaticism, hatred and terror."

'Defending freedom' 

Spanish 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."

'Sowing death' 

Pope Francis prayed for the victims as the Vatican said that "terrorism and violence can never be accepted.

"Today's attack has sown death in a place of love and consolation. The Pope is aware of the situation and is close to the mourning Catholic community," Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

The pontiff urged people in France to "unite to combat evil with good".

UK stands with France 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged solidarity with Paris in the fight against extremism.

"I am appalled to hear the news from Nice this morning of a barbaric attack at the Notre-Dame Basilica," he tweeted in English and French.

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

UN chief condemns 'heinous attack'

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Thursday's attack. Guterres "strongly condemns the heinous attack today that took place in Notre Dame's Basilica in Nice," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Guterres "strongly condemns the heinous attack today that took place in Notre Dame's Basilica in Nice," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Trump says 'our hearts' with France

US President Donald Trump on Thursday expressed solidarity with France. "Our hearts are with the people of France. America stands with our oldest Ally in this fight," he tweeted.

India stands with France against terrorism

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed condolences for the victims and their families, and reiterated that India stands with France in the fight against terrorism.

"I strongly condemn the recent terrorist attacks in France, including today's heinous attack in Nice inside a church. Our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the people of France. India stands with France in the fight against terrorism," tweeted Modi.

"Our hearts are with the people of France. America stands with our oldest Ally in this fight," he tweeted.