PARIS: French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the country’s threat level will be raised to its maximum after an attack near a church in Nice killed three people on Thursday (Oct 29).
The move comes just hours before France goes into its second coronavirus lockdown.
The attack in the Mediterranean city was the third in two months in France amid a growing furore over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that were re-published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Other confrontations and attacks were reported on Thursday in the southern city of Avignon and in the Saudi city of Jeddah, but it was not immediately clear if they were linked to the attack in Nice.
Thursday’s assailant in Nice was wounded by police and hospitalised after the killings at the Notre-Dame Basilica, less than 1km from the site where another attacker ploughed a truck into a Bastille Day crowd in 2016, killing dozens of people.
France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the Nice killings, which marked the third attack since the September opening of the trial of 14 people linked to the January 2015 killings at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket.
The gunmen in the 2015 attacks claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.
Thursday's attacker was believed to be acting alone and police are not searching for other assailants, said two police officials, who were not authorised to be publicly named.
“He cried ‘Allah Akbar!' over and over, even after he was injured,” said Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi, who told BFM television that two women and a man had died, two inside the church and a third who fled to a nearby bar but was mortally wounded.
“The meaning of his gesture left no doubt.”
French media showed the Nice neighbourhood locked down and surrounded by police and emergency vehicles.
Sounds of explosions could be heard as sappers exploded suspicious objects.
The lower house of parliament suspended a debate on France’s new virus restrictions and held a moment of silence on Thursday for the victims.
Prime Minister Castex rushed from the hall to a crisis centre overseeing the aftermath of the Nice attack.
French President Emmanuel Macron was scheduled to head to Nice later in the day.
In the southern city of Avignon later in the morning, an armed man was shot dead by police after he refused to drop his weapon and a flash-ball shot failed to stop him, one police official said.
And a Saudi state-run news agency said a man stabbed a guard at the French consulate in Jeddah, wounding the guard before he was arrested.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith condemned the Nice attack and called on French Muslims to refrain from festivities this week marking the birth of Muhammad “as a sign of mourning and in solidarity with the victims and their loved ones”.
Islamic State extremists issued a video on Wednesday renewing calls for attacks against France.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the attack in Nice.
"We stand in solidarity with the people of France against terror and violence,” the statement said.
Relations between Turkey and France hit a new low after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday accused Macron of Islamophobia over the caricatures and questioned his mental health, prompting Paris to recall its ambassador to Turkey for consultations.
The attack came less than two weeks after another assailant decapitated a French middle school teacher who showed the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad for a class on free speech.
Those caricatures were published by Charlie Hebdo and cited by the men who gunned down the newspaper's employees in 2015.
In September, a man who had sought asylum in France attacked bystanders outside Charlie Hebdo's former offices with a butcher knife.