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IS group kills priest in Western church attack

NORMANDY, France (BP) — Islamic State jihadists slit the throat of an elderly Catholic priest who was celebrating Mass in Normandy, France, early July 26, marking the terrorist group’s first known attack on a church in the West, the Associated Press reported.

In the knife attack just before 10 a.m. in the rural community of Saint-Etienne-Du-Rouvray, two men forced 85-year-old priest Jacques Hamel to his knees, murdered him and filmed themselves making comments in Arabic while dancing around the altar, a nun who witnessed the attack told AP.

An 86-year-old man was wounded during the Mass attended by one other parishioner and three nuns, the AP reported. The attackers took two hostages as human shields before being killed by police.

Intelligence experts called the attack a major shift for the terrorists who are targeting nations active in a U.S.-led coalition against the group in Iraq and Syria.

Haras Rafiq, managing director of the Quilliam Foundation counter-extremism think tank, said the Islamic State group (also known as IS, ISIS or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is speeding a “global jihadist insurgency.”

“What these two people today have done is [shift] the tactical attack to the attack on Rome,” he told AP, “an attack on Christianity…. This is going into a house of God. This is attacking and killing a priest…. We’ve been talking about the danger of a global jihadist insurgency. This is what it looks like.”

Daniel Shoenfeld, an analyst with the Soufan Group security intelligence service, called the attack “a shot directly at Western Christianity. It’s this effort by the Islamic State and their supporters to drive a further wedge between broader Western society and Muslims,” Shoenfeld told AP.

French President Francois Hollande called the attack a “profane” act against the Republic of France.

Police identified one of the attackers as 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, a local native who had been arrested on preliminary terrorism charges after trying twice to travel to Syria using family members’ identity papers. Kermiche had been under house arrest, but committed the attack when his surveillance bracelet was deactivated, as it was a few hours daily during a surveillance agreement, the AP said.

The other attacker was not identified. Together, the two men had three knives, several fake explosives and a kitchen timer wrapped in aluminum foil. One person, believed to be a 16-year-old minor, was arrested in the investigation related to the crime. The IS group is known to have recruited fighters from the area.

Hamel had served the parish for a decade and was described by diocesan official Philippe Maheut as “always ready to help. His desire was to spread a message for which he consecrated his life,” Maheut told AP. “And he certainly didn’t think that consecrating his life would mean for him to die while celebrating Mass, which is a message of love.”

According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, IS killed 6,073 in terrorist attacks in 2014 and more than 20,000 in combat. IS has killed more than 1,200 people outside of Iraq and Syria since 2014, according to a New York Times analysis.