A terror attack that killed three people in Nice on Thursday left France increasingly embattled at home and abroad, as the government called for toughening measures against Islamic extremism, amid rising tensions with Muslim nations.
A knife-wielding assailant left two people dead in Nice’s towering neo-Gothic basilica, including a 60-year-old woman who was nearly decapitated, less than two weeks after the beheading of a teacher shook the nation. A third victim died Thursday after taking refuge in a nearby bar.
Jean-François Ricard, France’s top anti-terrorism prosecutor, said the suspected killer was a Tunisian man, born in 1999, who had entered France after arriving in Italy on Sept. 20. He said the man, who was unknown to French authorities, was arrested after lunging at police officers while yelling “Allahu akbar” and was hospitalized with serious wounds.
“Very clearly it is France that is attacked,” President Emmanuel Macron said after traveling quickly to Nice. French authorities placed a jittery country on its highest terrorism threat level.
The killings came at a time when the government’s recent words and deeds have put it at odds with Muslims in France and abroad, including heads of state like President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. What many French people see as their country’s uncompromising defense of its safety and free expression, many Muslims consider to be scapegoating and blasphemous insults to their religion.
Just a few weeks ago, Macron called for an “Islam of enlightenment” and “an Islam that can be at peace with the republic,” in what he described as a renewed fight against radicalism and challenges to the nation’s secular ideals. Since the killing of the teacher in a suburb of Paris, his government has unfurled a wide dragnet against what it has characterized as Islamic extremism, vexing many French Muslims and stirring strong rebuke from Muslim nations.
The steps have included expelling imprisoned foreigners suspected of terrorist links, carrying out raids and rolling up a Muslim group it accuses of “advocating radical Islam” and hate speech. But few of those affected by the measures had any direct connection to the beheading of the teacher, who was killed by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee.