New arrest after Nice knife attack as security tightened in France

France Attack Credit: AP

A new suspect has been arrested by detectives investigating an attack by a Tunisian man who killed three people in a Nice church and a second victim has been named.

France heightened its security alert in the wake of the attack at the Notre Dame Church on Thursday morning.

The attacker was seriously wounded by police and taken to hospital in a life-threatening condition, authorities said.

His name is known to police in France but it has not been officially released.

France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor said the suspect is a Tunisian born in 1999 who reached the Italian island of Lampedusa, a key landing point for migrants crossing in boats from North Africa, on September 20, and travelled to Bari, a port city in southern Italy, on October 9.

It is not clear when he arrived in Nice.

Forensic officers at the scene Credit: Eric Gaillard/AP

Anti-terrorism prosecutors in France and Tunisia are investigating the attack.

Tunisian anti-terrorism authorities have opened an investigation into an online claim of responsibility by a person who said the attack was staged by a heretofore-unknown extremist group in the country.

The new suspect is a 47-year-old man believed to have been in contact with the attacker the night before it was carried out, according to a judicial official.

A substitute prosecutor at the Tunisian anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office, Mohsen Dali, said a claim of responsibility came in an online post saying the attack was staged by a group called Al Mehdi of Southern Tunisia, previously unknown to Tunisian authorities.

The victims include 55-year-old Vincent Loques, a father of two who was the church’s sacristan, in charge of its holy objects, according to local broadcaster France-Bleu.

One of the victims was named as 55-year-old Vincent Loques.

Another was a 44-year-old mother of three from Brazil named Simone who had studied cooking in Nice and helped poor communities, France-Bleu said.

In an interview broadcast on Friday with Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV, the attacker’s mother said she was shocked by the events.

She said she was surprised to hear her son was in France and had no idea what he was planning.

“You don’t know the French language, you don’t know anyone there, you’re going to live alone there, why, why did you go there?” She said she told him over the phone when he arrived.

His brother told Al-Arabiya that he had informed the family he would sleep in front of the church, and sent them a photograph showing him at the cathedral.

“He didn’t tell me anything,” he said.

A neighbour said he knew the assailant when he was a mechanic and held various other odd jobs, and had shown no signs of radicalisation.

Police at the scene of the knife attack in Nice. Credit: AP

Tunisians fleeing a virus-battered economy make up the largest contingent of migrants landing in Italy this year.

Italian media reported the attacker was placed with 800 others on a virus quarantine boat in Puglia, after he arrived on September 20.

After the two-week quarantine, he received a notice that he was being expelled from Italy for illegal entry and was given seven days to leave the country, according to Milan daily Corriere della Sera.

Italy’s interior minister confirmed the suspect was ordered to leave Italy on October 9.

Luciana Lamorgese said he was not flagged by either Tunisian authorities or intelligence agencies.

The attack was the third in less than two months that French authorities have attributed to Muslim extremists, including the beheading of a teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class after the images were re-published by satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

The images deeply offended many Muslims, and protesters burned French flags, stomped on portraits of President Emmanuel Macron and called for boycotts of French products at demonstrations in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

Protests against Emmanuel Macron in Karachi, Pakistan Credit: Fareed Khan/AP

In the wake of the Nice attack, thousands of Muslims, from Pakistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian territories, poured out of Friday prayer services to join anti-France protests after the French president vowed to protect the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad.

Demonstrations in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad turned violent as 2,000 people who tried to march towards the French embassy were pushed back by police firing tear gas and beating protesters with batons.

Crowds of Islamist activists hanged an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron from a highway overpass after pounding it furiously with their shoes.

Thousands across the Muslim world protest over French cartoons. Credit: AP

Mr Macron said he would immediately increase the number of soldiers deployed to protect French schools and religious sites from around 3,000 to 7,000.

Schools remain open during a nationwide lockdown that started on Friday to stem the spread of coronavirus, but religious services are cancelled.

Nice Imam Otmane Aissaoui condemned the “terrible act of terror, of savagery, of human insanity that plunges us into sadness, shock and pain” which had again put French Muslims in the spotlight.

The attacker “hit brothers and sisters who were praying to their lord”, he said.

“It’s as if a mosque was touched… I am deeply Christian today.”