‘France’s soul affected, response must be merciless’: French politicians react to ISIS church attack

A young girl prays near flowers and candles at the town hall in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, to pay tribute to French priest who was killed with a knife and another hostage seriously wounded in an attack on a church that was carried out by assailants linked to Islamic State. © Pascal Rossignol
The killing of an elderly priest at a French church by assailants loyal to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) marks a “new stage” of extremist terror, French politicians have said, with many calling for a stronger response from the government.

Following Tuesday’s attack in northern France, during which a hostage-taking situation at a Catholic church resulted in a priest having his throat slit, French President Francois Hollande said the Islamic militant threat “has never been greater in France and Europe.”

Having officially stated that the attack was a terrorist act and that those who carried it out claimed a connection to IS, the French leader once again vowed to defeat terrorism. He has also promised the Vatican, which has condemned the “barbaric killing,” that all measures possible would be taken to protect religious sites in the country, le Figaro reported.   

Yet, Hollande’s Socialist government is coming under increasing criticism, as other politicians claim its response has failed to provide security for French people in their own country.

“After the Nice attack, our country is once again hit by barbarity in particularly inhuman circumstances...This situation has to finally lead us to greater understanding that we have to deeply change the dimension, the measures, the strategy of our response,” former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at a Tuesday press conference in Paris.

Saying that the “assassination” of a Catholic priest in a church has “affected France’s soul,” the politician stated that this kind of “enemy has no taboo, no limit, no morals, no borders.”

“We must be merciless,” Sarkozy, who is expected to run for the French presidency next year, said, adding “There is no more time to be wasted. This is war and there is no other choice than to fight it.”

Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front party, has blamed the church attack not only on Islamists, but also on those “who have governed this country over the past 30 years,” saying they bear “huge” responsibility for the current events.

Philippe de Villers, a former two-time French presidential candidate and leader of the Movement for France (MPF), a conservative party, told RT that the attackers’ choice of target was significant “and represents something completely new.”

“Before they used to attack the police, passers-by or those on holiday – now they are targeting those who are religious,” he said, while also saying the country’s “soul” had been affected. “France was cut to the heart, its soul is weeping,” he said, adding that the attack “marked a new stage” in terrorism and that a response must now be “immediate.”

“France’s borders should be restored, the flow of migrants stopped and [those who are already in the country] must be made to respect the principle of assimilation – either you love France, or leave,” he told RT.

Eric Ciotti, a member of the French National Assembly from the Republicans party, has also proposed extreme measures, saying that “France must immediately expel all foreign radicals.”

Other politicians expressed concern over the precedence punishing measures take over precautionary ones.

A former interior ministry official, Yvan Blot, told RT he believes France needs to upgrade its intelligence services, saying that “only the secret services are efficient,” while also accusing the government of not taking the threat posed by Islamic extremists seriously.

“It is not very efficient to display lots of police or soldiers on the street. Naturally this is good for the morale of the local population, but efficiency comes only from the secret services,” he said.

Jerome Lambert, a National Assembly deputy from the Socialist Party, agreed that ramping up police presence will not solve the problem.

“It is simply not possible to place a policeman by each church. There may be some 40,000 churches in the country, and 100,000 police officers,” he said, adding that tougher precautionary measures are needed to prevent terrorists from causing further harm.

The politician pointed out that at least one of the assailants that forced the priest to kneel before slitting his throat lived in the same commune, meaning he had “attacked people who he lived next to.” He went on to say that Islamic State’s tactics had evolved, expanding “terrorism to everywhere, and not just to big cities and large symbolic centers.”