'Overcome hatred,' says the archbishop of Paris in wake of church attack

French president François Hollande convened an interfaith meeting with religious leaders on Wednesday, as mourners gathered at St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy.

Benoit Tessier/Reuters
French President Francois Hollande (second from r.) speaks with France's Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia (r.), Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve (second from l.) and Prime Minister Manuel Valls after a meeting on Wednesday, with the French President and representatives of religious communities at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, a day after a priest was killed with a knife and another hostage seriously wounded in an attack on a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray carried out by assailants linked to Islamic State.

French president François Hollande met with religious leaders at the presidential palace on Wednesday in a show of interfaith solidarity after two men said to be inspired by the self-proclaimed Islamic State stormed a Catholic church, killing a priest and seriously wounding another person.

At the meeting, which included Roman Catholic, Christian Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish leaders, Paris archbishop Cardinal André Vingt-Trois urged Catholics to "overcome hatred that comes in their heart," telling journalists afterward, "We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged into the politics of Daesh, which wants to set the children of the same family against each other," referring to IS by it's Arabic acronym.

Mourners in St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray laid candles in front of the town hall and called for unity in the wake of the violence.

"Be we Christians, Muslims, anything, we have to be together," resident Mulas Arbanu told Reuters.

The French government has extended a drastic series of security measures unveiled after the mid-July attacks in Nice, including a state of emergency that invests it with broad powers to detain and search people, electronics and residences without a judge’s approval. Some 10,000 members of the military have been ordered to guard public sites thought to be likely targets. And Mr. Hollande has promised to step up airstrikes against IS targets in Syria and Iraq.

But the Hollande administration has faced withering criticism from the opposition and an upsurge of public resentment over its inability to prevent terrorist attacks. Nearly 90 percent of the public now disapprove of their president’s performance, according to CBS.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, a conservative opponent of the socialist Hollande, has accused the government of "clinging to a mindset that is out of touch with reality," telling Le Monde, "All this violence and barbarism has paralyzed the French left since January 2015," when the first of the current string of terrorist incidents occurred.

After 84 people were killed in the attacks in Nice, The Christian Science Monitor noted that the seaside resort had become a locus of radicalization, with 120 people in the region leaving to join jihadist groups in Syria.

In the spring, the government took dozens of steps to fight radicalism; those included more police, more money, and more cooperation with other countries as well as local schools and social workers, to check the signs of radicalization. Authorities also visit prisons where radicals are trying to influence others, and have been clamping down on mosques to ban radical imams.

But the results have been mixed. "Deradicalization absolutely does not work," says [Jérémy Simon] Collado, journalist [at the local daily Nice Matin]. 'In France today, we can’t deradicalize someone. We don’t have the right measures in place. What we’re talking about more so in France today is how to dismantle the jihadist cells and stop closing our eyes to the problem.'

Both attackers were shot and killed by French police as they exited the church with hostages on Tuesday. One of them, 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, was known to intelligence services for his earlier attempts to join IS militants in Syria. The teenager had grown up in France as the middle child of two parents who had moved from Algeria. Since a child he had displayed psychological troubles and his mother, a professor, had previously sought help from the authorities for controlling him, according to The Guardian.

In March 2015, Mr. Kermiche was arrested in Germany en route and placed under police supervision back in France; within two months, he was caught again as he made his way through Turkey. French authorities detained him until late March of this year, when they released him on bail, with charges of membership to a terrorist group still pending.

Kermiche had handed in his passport and was required to wear an electronic tracking bracelet and stay in his parents’ home for all but a few hours per day – a time window during which he was able to launch the attack.

Police said they had also arrested the 16-year-old younger brother of a young man who tried to travel to territories controlled by IS in Iraq and Syria using Kermiche’s passport, though the 16-year-old did not appear to be linked to the attack on the church.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.