SAINT-ETIENNE-DU-ROUVRAY, France | By Noemie Olive
Knife-wielding attackers interrupted a church service in France, forced the priest to his knees and slit his throat on Tuesday, an attack that President Francois Hollande said showed the threat from Islamist militancy was greater than ever.
Police shot and killed the attackers as they emerged from the church, freeing three hostages, one of whom was seriously wounded.
The knifemen arrived during morning mass in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, northwest of Paris, where the 85-year-old parish priest Father Jacques Hamel was leading prayers.
"They forced him to his knees and he tried to defend himself and that's when the drama began," Sister Danielle, who escaped as the attackers slayed the priest, told RMC radio.
"They filmed themselves. It was like a sermon in Arabic around the altar," the nun said.
Speaking at the scene, Hollande called it a "dreadful terrorist attack," adding that the attackers had pledged allegiance to Islamic State, the militant group that he said had declared war on France.
News agency Amaq, which is affiliated with Islamic State, said two of its "soldiers" had carried out the attack. Police said one person had been arrested.
Tuesday's attack came less than two weeks after a Tunisian plowed a truck into a crowd in the French Riviera city of Nice, killing 84 people. Islamic State claimed that attack.
France is a major partner in the U.S.-led military coalition bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. The White House condemned Tuesday's attack and commended the French police's "quick and decisive response."