NICE, France—A knife-wielding man killed three people—nearly decapitating one of them—in the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice, police said, in an assault being treated as an act of terrorism.
Surveillance footage showed the attacker entered the towering basilica before 9 a.m. and spent some 25 minutes inside before a 44-year-old woman fled the building with multiple stab wounds, said Jean-François Ricard, France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor. She died moments later.
Local police, alerted by passersby, slipped in the door and encountered the alleged attacker, who shouted “Allahu akbar” before being shot and detained, Mr. Ricard said. Inside the church, police found a 60-year old woman whose throat had been deeply cut in what one official described as “an apparent effort to decapitate her.” A 55-year-old man who served as the church’s sacristan also had his throat cut. Police found a knife with a seven-inch blade, two telephones and a copy of the Quran.
Mr. Ricard said the alleged attacker appears to be a Tunisian man born in 1999 who illegally entered the European Union through the Italian island of Lampedusa on Sept. 20, and made it to mainland Italy in early October. He underwent surgery for his wounds Thursday and remains in critical condition, Mr. Ricard added.
The attack—the third France has endured in just over a month—escalates the confrontation between radical Islam and a French government determined to defend freedom of expression as well as the country’s strict divide between state and religion. It also came as the country prepared to enter a national lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19.